The Cheltenham Open meeting gets under way on Friday with six competitive races including the Glenfarclas Chase, in which Grade Champetre is chasing a sixth win over Cheltenham's cross-country fences.
1:15 Irish Times Amateur Riders´ Handicap Chase 3m110y
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies can be relied upon to have horses ready to run for their lives at this meeting and he can win the opening race with KNOWHERE. The 12-year-old hasn't won since landing Aintree's Old Roan Chase over two years ago but the handicapper has relented, dropping him 17lb to a mark of 137. He's not getting any younger but probably has one last hoorah in him and the booking of crack Irish amateur Derek O'Connor suggests that connections have him primed. He should be a value price too, with Paul Nicholls' Earth Planet likely to go off favourite. He's not without a chance for sure but I just prefer the old boy.
1:50 Cheltenham Collection Sharp Novices´ Hurdle Grade 2 2m110y
All eyes will be on Colin Tizzard's Cue Card, who will be many people's idea of the bet of the meeting. Last season's Champion Bumper winner recorded a facile success on his debut over hurdles at Aintree in October and looks an exciting prospect. That race was over 2m4f but he would have won over 2m or even 3m given how much class he exuded, so the drop back in trip will not bother him. However, DUNRAVEN STORM could prove troublesome. Philip Hobbs' five-year-old was beaten a long way in the Champion Bumper but has taken really well to hurdles this season, winning both his starts. He's clearly improving fast and is a value selection against the favourite.
2:25 paddypower.com Handicap Chase 2m
Hobbs saddles the likely favourite here in Safari Journey, who proved a revelation in first time blinkers when thumping a decent field of handicappers at Ascot on his reappearance. If the blinkers have the same effect, he will take some beating but the handicapper has raised him 14lb and the concession of 7lb to the Paul Nicholls-trained RIVALISTE might be just beyond him.
The five-year-old won on his English debut at Newbury 12 month's ago and nearly followed on his next start at Sandown, going down by a short head to Doctor Pat. He was then put away to preserve his handicap mark for the Jewson Novices' Chase here in March, only for him to give away his chance by running far too freely. That's something Nicholls will have worked on and, as he likes to bowl along in front, I'm expecting Noel Fehily - deputising for the injured Ruby Walsh - to give him a positive ride. He could take some catching.
3:00 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase 3m7f
The Irish have farmed this race and it's odds-on the prize will be heading across the Irish Sea once again with GARDE CHAMPETRE, Sizing Australia, Freneys Ground, Heads Onthe Ground and Changing Course forming a five-pronged attack. The weights favour Garde Champetre and last year's winner showed he was in good order when warming up over hurdles recently. It seems folly to oppose him in his bid to make it six wins in nine tries over this unique course and distance.
3:35 Arkle Bookshop Conditional Jockeys´ Handicap Hurdle 2m5f
With 24 largely unexposed hurdlers going to post, this looks a tricky race to solve and the ex-French DYNASTE is just a hopeful selection. He didn't look anything special when finishing third on his English debut for David Pipe at Worcester last month but that was his run for 341 days and he had some good form in France, including when finishing fourth at Vichy, with last season's Fred Winter winner Sanctuaire one place in front of him. The step up in trip will suit and he's one to watch very closely in the betting.
4:05 Steel Plate And Sections Novices´ Chase 2m4f110y
This is a fascinating contest with some highly regarded novices going to post. Time For Rupert was the best of these over hurdles, most recently finishing second to Big Bucks in the World Hurdle in March, and must go close of translating that form to fences. The well-regarded Mr Thriller and Reve De Sivola, second to the unbeaten Peddlers Cross at the Festival, are others to consider, but I fancy the ace will go to the race-fit OTHERMIX. He's still a novice after seven runs over fences but he ran a cracker when second in the Jewson here last season and bumped into a really good horse in Radium last time at Ascot. His trainer Ian Williams has his horses in great form and won this race last year with Weird Al.
1.50 Dunraven Storm
3.00 Garde Champetre