Racing returns to Cheltenham for the first time this season on Friday and Saturday.
Racing returns to Cheltenham this weekend and Sean Raymond has picked out five horses to watch during the excellent Showcase Meeting...
Braid Blue (Gordon Elliott)
Any Gordon Elliott-trained runner in the UK outside of the spring Festivals is to be respected, and the brilliant Irish handler will be hoping that Braid Blue can provide him with a winner at Cheltenham in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle on Friday. The six-year-old has enjoyed an excellent summer programme, which has seen the horse win four on the bounce since April.
Richard Johnson will be back on a horse who continues to improve, and although he doesn't appear to be quite top drawer at this stage, there could still be more to come, and with fitness on his side thanks to a busy enough summer, there is every chance that Braid Blue could mop up the first race of the winter at the Gloucestershire venue.
Al Dancer (Nigel Twiston-Davies)
Nigel Twiston-Davies always targets the first meeting of the season at Cheltenham Races with some of his stable stars, and that is certainly the case this year with the exciting Al Dancer set to make his reappearance on Friday.
The six-year-old will be making his debut over fences in the two-mile novice chase at 14:35, and he is expected to take a high order in the division after showing huge promise over the smaller obstacles. The Dai Walters-owned star won three out of his four starts last term, including the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, before finishing in a slightly disappointing tenth place in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle having been sent off as the 9/2 joint-favourite.
Connections clearly retain huge faith in the horse, and the fact they are willing to start him over fences at Prestbury Park is a sign of just how highly he is regarded at home. Getaway Trump will offer a stern test in what should be a cracking contest on Friday afternoon, with both market leaders expected to prove talented, although Al Dancer is the narrow fancy to claim the win.
Another runner to watch from the impressive Nigel Twiston-Davies yard, Wholestone will continue his career over fences in the three-mile novices' chase on Friday afternoon.
The eight-year-old is an excellent recruit to the chasing ranks this term, and is already off the mark over the bigger obstacles having won on debut at Perth last month. Good enough to finish third in a Stayers' Hurdle, Wholestone was rated as high as 161 over hurdles, and repeat of that level as a novice chaser this season will see him enter the picture as a genuine contender for the RSA Chase in the spring.
The fact that he has bundles of Cheltenham experience will also be in his favour against some classy but inexperienced chasers like Dinons and Aye Aye Charlie, and with the ground set to be decent for the first day of racing of the winter on the Old Course, Wholestone should be a cut above the field.
Master Debonair (Colin Tizzard)
The maiden hurdle on Friday is likely to give punters a look at some potentially exciting horses, and they include Master Debonair, who has been declared to run for Colin Tizzard.
The five-year-old won a listed bumper at Cheltenham last year ahead of Thyme Hill - who has since gone on to frank that form with a win in the Persian War Novices' Hurdle at Chepstow. A poor run in the Champion Bumper was followed by a much better display in the Aintree equivalent, and connections will be hoping for further glimpses of his undoubted talent following wind surgery over the summer.
There is clearly an engine under the bonnet of Master Debonair, and with Robbie Power booked for the ride on Friday, we are expecting to see a strong display at Jumps HQ.
Torpillo (Nigel Twiston-Davies)
The Twiston-Davies runners will continue to come thick and fast on day two of the Showcase meeting at Cheltenham, with Torpillo another interesting runner for the local trainer. The four-year-old looks set to take his chance in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle on Saturday, and it is easy to make a case for him being the horse to beat in this one.
The Isaac Souede and Simon Munir-owned animal impressed with two comfortable wins at Sandown on his first two starts in the UK last season, before disappointing slightly at Cheltenham when expected to run well in the Fred Winter. It didn't take him long to make amends, though, making a winning reappearance over two miles on reappearance at Chepstow last month.
A horse with talent and with has fitness on his side to boot, Torpillo could easily enhance his burgeoning reputation with another success on Saturday.