It felt more like midsummer than mid-November here on Sunday, and the combination of a bright, low sun and unusually quick ground played havoc with the final day of Cheltenham’s second-biggest meeting of the year.
With Edwardstone, last year’s Arkle Trophy winner, scratched from the Shloer Chase, Nube Negra was left with an exercise gallop at odds of 1-10 to land a £57,000 first prize, while three of the eight hurdles were omitted from both the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle and the Supreme Novice Hurdle Trial.
Selective watering of the track overnight was not enough to persuade Alan King that Edwardstone should take his chance, and the chunky winner’s check for Nube Negra’s connections was perhaps a crumb of comfort after they were forced to take him out of last season’s Champion Chase in March when the ground – which had also been watered – turned soft.
“If we’d run him on that, we’d still be out there looking for him now,” Dan Skelton, Nube Negra’s trainer, said after banking one of the most straightforward wins of his career.
“It’s a shame the race cut up for the racecourse, the fans and the sponsor but that’s racing. We got our conditions and we’d have loved to have a bit of a fight, but it didn’t materialize today.”
It will not materialize in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown next month either, as Skelton is “stone cold” that Nube Negra will not run, despite being quoted at around 10-1 in most firms’ lists. In fact, Nube Negra’s next start could be in the Champion Chase itself, depending on ground conditions at Kempton’s Christmas meeting.
“We harbor major ambitions for here in March,” Skelton said. “We were second [in the Champion Chase] two renewals ago and we feel we’ve got some major unfinished business.”
I Like To Move It carried top weight of 12 stone to victory in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle, beating Gin Coco, the favourite, by five-and-a-half lengths.
Winners of this race under top weight this century include top-class performers Menorah, Rigmarole and Rooster Booster, who won in 2002 and then took the Champion Hurdle itself the following March. I Like To Move It is around 50-1 to emulate him, in a market headed by Constitution Hill (11-8) and Honeysuckle (4-1), the defending champion.
“He is a proper horse and the International Hurdle [at Cheltenham on 10 December] will be next,” Nigel Twiston-Davies, the winner’s trainer, said. “It looks quite busy, the Champion Hurdle, but that is the plan at the moment.”