The Jumps are back! Ed Nicholson, Head of Unibet Racing Sponsorship & Communications takes us through Friday's card.
Back In March Unibet sponsored Doncaster’s Lincoln meeting which has traditionally been regarded as the start of the flat turf season, and I’m delighted that Unibet continue to sponsor what is fast becoming the starting point for a new national hunt season, namely the two-day Unibet Jump season opener at Chepstow this weekend.
This meeting has seen many of the best in the business not only start their season, but for many, start their careers over either hurdles or fences. Altior won his first hurdle race here at this meeting in 2015 by 34 lengths, while Cue Card won his first chase in 2011.
Equine heroes such as Silviniaco Conti, Native River, Don’t Push It, Vicente, Thyme Hill, Blaklion and Clan des Obeaux have all used this meeting as th starting point for successful seasons, and there is every chance that those at Chepstow this weekend will see another top class or three horses over the next two days.
The meeting opens with a novice hurdle that has thrown up some smart sorts in previous years. Paul Nicholls has a tremendous record at this track, and particularly at this meeting which he obviously targets. His Knappers Hill took the bumper at this meeting last season and ended up winning a G2 contest at Aintree. He can take this and has the scope to make into a top novice hurdler this term.
There are just four runners in the novice chase at 1.35pm, and there’s not much between them on hurdle form, but Ask Dillon has always struck me as horse who could make into a decent staying novice chaser and having reverted to hurdles last season having fallen on his only try at chasing last term, can make amends here.
The Professor Caroline Tisdall Supports Heroic Jumpers Veterans' Handicap Chase at 2.10pm sees some real favourites take to the course. None more so that the sponsors very own Vieux Lion Rouge who won this very race in 2019, was placed in the Silver Trophy back in 2014 and has won over the famous Aintree fences. It would be wonderful to see him win for owner and sponsor at the age of 12 - and at current odds of around 8/1 he is each way selection.
The big race of the day is unquestionably the Grade 2 Unibet Persian War novices’ hurdle named after the horse Persian War, a three-time winner of the Champion Hurdle who was trained near Chepstow. It is always a good race and many future G1 horses have won or been placed. Indeed, two subsequent Grand National winners have also finished second in this event (Comply or Die and Bindaree) before tasting glory at Aintree.
This year’s contest looks every inch as classy as previous renewals – with many horses already achieving relatively high official ratings. Last year’s contest was really a one-horse event with McFabulous winning hard held – but still managing to break the course record! This time around it’s a very different kettle of fish and any number of horses could win, as 3/1 the field at present clearly demonstrates.
Unibet ambassadors Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville fancy their chances with First Street, but preference is for Paso Doble with Harry Cobden aboard – the same connections as the winner from last year, and this combo have won 13 races from 41 attempts in the month of October at Chepstow since 2016. Paul Nicholls has won this race 7 times with 21 horses trying since 1997; he’s also been placed a further four times. Paso Double and Paul Nicholls will do for me.