The domestic jump season sprang into life at the weekend – defying the £16m-worth of Breeders' Cup in California – and takes another lively step today at Exeter. The little country track, high on Haldon Hill west of the city whose name it bears, often demands masochism from its patrons when they find themselves shrouded in wet mist that has swept off nearby Dartmoor.
But whatever the weather there's no gainsaying the quality of the competitors who turn up at one of the sport's outposts. And over the years the place has played host to several Kipling-style impostors: the triumph of the likes of Viking Flagship, Best Mate and Azertyuiop; the disaster of Best Mate's death after his three Gold Cup wins; the shock of defeat for Desert Orchid; the drama of novice Kauto Star's penultimate-fence fall and remounted near-victory.
We are in an era that seems to demand simplistic "narrative" at every turn and today's feature, the Haldon Gold Cup, is tagged as part of "the road to Cheltenham". On the path that leads to the Queen Mother Champion Chase – where the extraordinary Sprinter Sacre, regarded as two-mile chasing's Frankel, lies in wait – this may prove something of a crossroads for today's principal protagonists, Cue Card and Menorah.
They will contest a Grade Two chase over a demanding two and a quarter miles which presents a test that can suit either speed horses or stayers, and both have won over shorter and longer trips. "We could have gone to Wetherby for the Charlie Hall [three miles and a furlong] on Saturday but I didn't want to bottom him first time up," said Cue Card's trainer, Colin Tizzard, yesterday. "This is a lovely starting place. It's a stiff track, the equivalent of two and a half, and afterwards we'll know which way to go with him."
Though neither Cue Card nor Menorah, from the Philip Hobbs yard, proved any match at all for Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham, their winning novice form last season has already had recent boosts. Before the Festival, Cue Card accounted for last month's wide-margin Aintree winner For Non Stop, and after it Menorah bounced back to beat Cristal Bonus, impressive at Down Royal on Saturday.
Hobbs has won this race twice in recent years, with Monkerhostin and Planet of Sound. "Menorah has bags of pace," he said, "and he could go up in trip or down." Paul Nicholls, who added a double at Kempton on Sunday to his classy four-timer on Saturday, saddles the versatile Edgardo Sol.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Gas Line Boy (1.50 Exeter)
Has already proved his stamina, which will be needed round today's testing track, and, as a powerful individual, should be capable of coping with his penalty.
Next Best: Landscape (2.20 Exeter)
Thought good enough to run at Group level on the Flat in France and looks sure to benefit from last month's hurdling debut at Cheltenham and today's step up in distance.
One To Watch: Pete The Feat (Charlie Longsdon) has improved markedly for a change of stable and the handicapper may not yet have his measure.
Where The Money's Going: First Mohican is unbeaten in three runs and is Paddy Power's 4-1 favourite for next Saturday's Flat season finale, the November Handicap at Doncaster.Reuse content