Cheltenham is back! The Showcase meeting kicks our season off on Friday and Saturday, both days promising a ton of fantastic jumping action and we have a selection here for every race on day one.
1.55 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 2) – OFF YOUR ROCCO
The first race of the new season may well go to the returning, controversial Gordon Elliott courtesy of his Off Your Rocco.
His recent form in winning twice in a row puts him in poll position here, and that’s without the prospect of much improvement to come although he may yet take another step forward in these dryer conditions.
Early tissue prices don’t have him up at huge odds it must be said, but they do list him as second favourite only behind Philip Hobbs and JP McManus’s Camprond so we may yet get a backable price to aim at in the opening race. Jack Kennedy takes the ride.
Camprond, the mount of Aidan Coleman, is indeed our second choice with the likes of Mars Harper (Elliott) and All Clenched Up (Fergal O’Brien) appearing as though they have work to do.
2.30 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – FIDELIO VALLIS
After Harry Skelton’s championship-winning season in the saddle last time it’s perhaps no surprise that he and trainer brother Dan have the favourite in the shape of Third Time Lucki. They may be vulnerable, however.
Paul Nicholls is odds-on to become champion trainer this season, and his Fidelio Vallis has an outstanding chance of adding to his already growing tally.
Despite staying further and proving himself up for a fight, the six-year-old has clocked some consistently good speed figures which will help around the Old Course over this two-mile trip.
Although he’s young and has more to come, he also boasts experience having had six goes over fences, winning four times already and he could be decent value to score here ahead of Any News for Neil Mulholland.
3.05 (Novices’ Hurdle – Class 2) – SIRUH DU LAC
After being predicted in some quarters to head the betting, we were very surprised to see early prices of 7/1 offered up on Wednesday for David Pipe’s Siruh Du Lac who gets the vote.
He hasn’t run since last year’s November meeting, but he’s ready to go now and we shouldn’t forget that he was sent off at just 12/1 for the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
Now back over hurdles for the first time since 2017, he can make his experience count at a time when winning this would be simply thought of as good prep for the rest of the season and at the odds, we can afford to take a small chance.
Almazhar Garde is also too big a price, while closer to the head of the market Dragon Bones looks the most solid for each-way and Placepot punters.
3.40 (Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase – Class 3) – DANNY KIRWAN
On his return to the track after a 207-day hiatus and a breathing operation, there is plenty to like about the chances of Danny Kirwan.
Another for the Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden combo, Danny Kirwan reached a career high when winning nicely at Wincanton back in March and he’s often gone well after a break in the past.
Annual Invictus is a young horse with better to come, while Back On The Lash and likely favourite Faivoir, again for the Skeltons, all look closely matched at these handicap weights.
4.15 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – ART APPROVAL
We found this to be a terribly close and competitive affair when assessing the event, a 2½-mile handicap hurdle, and the betting has also reflected this. It’s awfully close on our book between Art Approval and Sometimes Always, the former just getting the vote.
Sometimes Always was on a roll around this time last year for Ian Williams and now he’s had a break there may be more to come, however Art Approval is very much getting better all the time and is trained by a handler we cannot ignore at this meeting.
Local trainer Fergal O’Brien knows exactly how to get winners here, particularly at this meeting, and there’s no doubt his five-year-old will have been prepped to perfection.
Captain Morgs, Guard Your Dreams and Found On all made the shortlist too.
4.50 (Amateur Jockeys’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – MARQUIS OF CARABAS
If we’re right (and lucky), Fergal O’Brien may be on for a quickfire double towards the end of the card.
His Marquis Of Carabas is a bit of a labour of love having been off the track exactly two-and-a-half years, but we know for sure this has been plotted by the yard and the now eleven-year-old should come out flying.
He was rated 127 and getting better when last seen on course, but begins the new chapter of his chasing life off just 119 in the handicap and has the assistance of top amateur Derek O’Connor in the saddle.
Bermeo is solid over this sort of trip (3m1f), although the younger Debden Bank, on a four-timer now, may well improve past him.
5.25 (Maiden Hurdle – Class 3) – JOHN LOCKE
As always in bumpers and maiden hurdles our advice is to check the betting in the final ten minutes before the race, as any stable-led plots will become apparent then.
On what we know so far however, John Locke may be the one to side with in the lucky last. In narrowing the field down to three preferred runners, it was Dan and Harry Skelton’s horse who showed up best.
Also on the list was Top Bandit for Gordon Elliott and Davy Russell, though in finishing third on his hurdling debut at 6/4 he may well have just disappointed a few people at Limerick and will need to improve now.
He doesn’t set a daunting standard for newcomer Cardano to aim at, a horse who reached a high of 100 on the Flat as recently as May and who remained in good form in that sphere right up to September.
John Locke however was fourth to both Tritonic and Monmiral (Grade 1) earlier in the year and should be too good here.