2019 International Meeting day one tips – Through the card tips on day one at Cheltenham on Friday

Jon Vine takes a look through the card on day one of Cheltenham’s International Meeting and provides readers with his tips for every race on Friday 13th December.

Another fantastic International Meeting is almost upon us and punters can look forward to a terrific afternoon of racing from Cheltenham tomorrow. The ITV Racing team will also be in attendance, with the final four races on Friday’s card coming to us live on ITV4.

I’ve taken a look through the fields in each of tomorrow’s seven races at Cheltenham to provide my tips.

International Meeting Day One Tips

While the three previous hurdles winners are sure to lay down stiff challenges, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the return of CHANTRY HOUSE and I’m not prepared to side against Nicky Henderson’s imposing gelding.

Impressive in two starts between the flags, Barry Geraghty was in the saddle as Chantry House won on his sole bumper appearance at Warwick last term, cruising to a four-length triumph without needing to shift into top gear.

There were whispers coming out of Seven Barrows during the off-season that Chantry House could even go straight over fences, such is the size and scope of this five-year-old. I, however, am happy to see Henderson’s charge start out over hurdles and I fancy he will take all the beating in Friday’s opener.

Pym saw out three miles well enough at Ascot, but 25-and-a-half furlongs around Cheltenham is a completely different prospect and I’m not convinced Henderson’s charge really wants a gruelling test like this. Imperial Aura will also carry a penalty, having cantered home unopposed when going off as a 1/25 shot at Fakenham, and Kim Bailey’s charge still has questions to answer over fences.

Stoney Mountain produced a Paisley Park-esque performance to win a Grade Three over hurdles at Haydock and Henry Daly’s charge will be an exciting addition to the novice chasing ranks. On this occasion though, I’d rather side with ROCKPOINT, who ran a cracker behind Wholestone here last month and looks every inch the dour stayer.

Colin Tizzard’s six-year-old impressed during the early months of his novice hurdling campaign, beating Lisnagar Oscar in the Bristol Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago. Both of his starts over fences have come here at Cheltenham, staying on for fourth behind Mulcahys Hill, before crossing the line less than two lengths behind Wholestone at the Showcase Meeting.

The further they go, the better I think Rockpoint will be, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him running in the National Hunt Chase come the middle week of March.

Rockpoint winning the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle during day two of the International Meeting.

The headline entrant here is easily Never Adapt, who sustained an injury when making an eye-catching debut in a juvenile race here at Cheltenham 12 months ago. Nicky Henderson’s filly is easily the most talented of the 14 runners and looks the best handicapped. However, after such a long time off the track and thrown straight into mixed-sex handicap company, she could be one to swerve.

Oakley was caught up in a messy affair at Ascot, where he was left to try and track down a leader who poached ten lengths at the start. He could be good enough to contend under 11-11, but I prefer the much-better treated MANVERS HOUSE.

Robert Walford’s six-year-old proved he had plenty of ability when pushing Mister Fisher all the way in a bumper in the spring of 2018. Manvers House was then unlucky to run into the likes of Kateson, Champagne Platinum and Pym during his first season over hurdles, but James Best’s mount managed to produce a career-best effort when finishing second to Smarty Wild on his reappearance and he remains on an attractive mark of 124.

We now reach the first ITV race of the day. In truth, viewers would rather see any of the three races that preceded it, as this looks a low-quality, wide-open affair. Any of the six entrants could go off as the favourite, let alone win this Mares’ Handicap Chase, so trying to tip a winner is pretty much a stab in the dark.

If I had to put my hand into my pocket and back on of the runners here, it would probably be CHEQUERED VIEW (3/1 Unibet), who’s won two of her last three starts over fences and could still be open to progression running off 117. But this is very much a no-bet sort of race for me.

West Approach was backed into favouritism for the Ladbrokes Trophy, but Robbie Power was flung from the saddle at just the seventh obstacle. I’m expecting Colin Tizzard’s charge to be heavily punted in the build-up to this race once again. Yet, with the ground only on the soft-side of good, plus the fact that the favourite has to give weight to the field, I’m not included to back a horse with such a poor winning percentage.

Impulsive Star is well-worth a second look and has the ability to run beyond his lengthy odds. Singlefarmpayment loves running here at Cheltenham and came within a head of winning this race 12 months ago. Tom George’s nine-year-old was held off that day by the evergreen COGRY (11/2 Unibet) and, after a cracking run here on his reappearance, I fancy Nigel Twiston-Davies’ ten-year-old could be strong enough to retain his crown.

As Cogry has got older, he seems to have developed a liking for better ground. Cheltenham has also proven to be a particularly happy hunting ground for the former Scottish National runner-up, with all of his last three victories coming here at Prestbury Park. I feared the soft ground would eventually take it’s toll on this hardy front-runner during the October meeting, but Cogry kept on valiantly to cross the line third behind The Conditional and West Approach.

The gap between Cogry and West Approach in the weights has stretched from one to eleven pounds since then and, on ground which favours Twiston-Davies’ charge, I think Cogry could turn the tables on his rival.

Fact Of The Matter (left) gets up to beat Josie’s Orders (right) 12 months ago.

Yanworth took to Cross Country racing as well as everyone expected when he made his first start in this sphere for specialist trainer, Enda Bolger. Alan King’s former stable star jumped nicely around the banks course at Punchestown, holding off Neverrushacon after the last to secure a two-length triumph.

If I had to back one of the runners in this handicap to serve it up to the great Tiger Roll come the Festival, then it would probably be Yanworth. This race, however, is a handicap and it would be tough to ask the favourite to lug 11-12 around Cheltenham’s cross-country course for three-and-three-quarter miles.

French raiders have a good record here in Cross Country Handicaps, so you can see why Easysland is so high up the betting. You wouldn’t be shocked to see Josie’s Orders score another victory here around Cheltenham either, but the one who appeals most to be at an each-way price is last year’s winner, FACT OF THE MATTER (14/1 bet365).

Jamie Snowden’s mount came into this handicap on the back of a narrow defeat to Josie’s Orders at the Showcase Meeting and flipped the script on Bolger’s raider to secure an impressive win. After a series of defeats, Fact Of The Matter returns to Cheltenham just one pound higher in the handicap and the word “good” featuring in the going description will fill connections with confidence. 14/1 looks way too big to me.

There’s a chance Kilbricken Storm could be too good for this lot, but the way he ran when returning to hurdling last season remains fairly off-putting. Champers On Ice will only have to carry 11-7, thanks to Kilbricken Storm’s inclusion, and David Pipe’s nine-year-old could be well-placed to seal a hat-trick. I would still rather pin my colours to ASK BEN (5/1 bet365).

A poor run in the Albert Bartlett aside, Graeme McPherson’s six-year-old enjoyed a good novice hurdling campaign. I was hoping he’d go chasing in the autumn, but Ask Ben made his reappearance in the Grade Three Handicap Hurdle on Betfair Chase day and ran well for a very long time, only fading back to fourth after a tired leap at the last.

Ask Ben improved with each of his outings during the first half of last season and there’s plenty of reason to suggest he can improve on his current hurdles mark of 136. With many of the runners behind him either unproven over the trip, carrying lots of weight or struggling for form, Ask Ben could be my best bet of the day at 5/1.