Fusil Raffles, Rouge Vif, and Galvin are some of the star names as high-class national hunt racing starts back at Cheltenham for day one of The Showcase on Friday, 23 October.
Rouge Vif (Harry Whittington/Daryl Jacob, 11st 7lb) is one of the leading fancies for the most valuable race on the card, the £48,000 Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase (3.35pm, 13 runners) over two miles.
A decisive winner of the G2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick in February, Rouge Vif was last seen out when third over the course and distance in the G1 Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase at The Festival™.
Market leader On The Slopes (Chris Gordon/Adam Wedge, 10st 8lb) was also in fine form before the Jump season was brought to a premature end, landing a pair of novice handicap chases in great style at Kempton Park in February and March.
Trainer Chris Gordon, who is based in Hampshire, said today: “On The Slopes is in great order and the plan is to run.
“I would like some more rain for him – the ground would preferably be on the easy side of good.
“Cheltenham are due some rain today and fingers crossed they get some. It is tricky at the declaration stage, but we would obviously like to run and he will as long as they get some rain.
“He finished last season really strongly and this looks a nice first target. He is in fine form at home.”
On The Slopes
Three other contenders also line up in on the back of a win, namely impressive Fontwell handicap scorer Beat The Judge (Gary Moore/Josh Moore, 10st 7lb), Newton Abbot winner Scardura (Neil Mulholland/Sam Twiston-Davies, 10st) and Hatcher (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton, 10st 10lb), who has been kept fresh since scoring at Southwell in July.
The opening Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (1.50pm, 2m 5f) is one of four usually informative novice contests on the card. Champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who has enjoyed three winners of this race since 2013, has leading claims with wide margin Wincanton winner Ask For Glory (Harry Cobden).
The opposition includes Global Fame, representing last year’s winning partnership of Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan, plus fellow last time out winners Does He Know (Kim Bailey/David Bass) and Midnight River (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton).
Top Irish trainer Gordon Elliott sends over Galvin (Robbie Power) for the Matchbook Better Way To Bet Novices’ Chase (2.25pm, six runners) over an extended three miles.
Runner-up to Imperial Aura in the Listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase at The Festival™, Galvin has been on a roll with three consecutive victories over fences, most recently in a G3 event at Tipperary on 4 October.
Chicago Grey captured this race for Elliott in 2010 before going on to provide the trainer with a maiden success at The Festival™ in the 2011 National Hunt Chase, with the same contest reportedly the target for Galvin this term.
A quality contest also features G1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle fifth Mossy Fen (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies), another Irish raider in Doctor Duffy (Charles Byrnes/Jonathan Burke) and prolific summer jumper Soldier Of Love (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden).
Also lining up is progressive mare Clondaw Caitlin (Ruth Jefferson/Brian Hughes). The five-year-old was undefeated on all three of her starts over hurdles last season, culminating with an impressive five-length victory in the G2 Premier Novices’ Hurdle at Kelso in February.
North Yorkshire-based Ruth Jefferson said today: “This race looks very competitive, but we have to start Clondaw Caitlin off somewhere and this looks as good a starting point as any.
“She has schooled really well over fences at home and we are looking forward to seeing how she gets on.
“She would like some cut in the ground so hopefully Cheltenham get the rain they are forecast, but she is in good form and is an exciting horse for the season ahead.”
High-class hurdlers Fusil Raffles (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob) and Getaway Trump (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden) are set to for an exciting clash in the Two Farmers Crisps Novices’ Chase (4.45pm, four runners) over two miles. Both horses come into the race following victories over fences at Uttoxeter and Warwick respectively.
Pipesmoker (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) faces seven rivals in the Catesby Estates Maiden Hurdle (4.10pm) over two miles. The five-year-old posted two promising efforts over hurdles last season, including an eye-catching third behind stablemate Chantry House at Cheltenham in December.
The two other handicaps on the card are the squareintheair.com Handicap Hurdle (3.00pm, 2m 5f), which has attracted a maximum field of 20, and the concluding Back And Lay At Matchbook Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (5.15pm, 18 runners, 2m 87y).
The Showcase continues on Saturday, 24 October, with a seven-race programme headlined by the £48,000 Matchbook Betting Exchange Handicap Chase (3.50pm, 17 entries) over three miles and a furlong.
The going at Cheltenham is Good (GoingStick reading of 7.4 at 7.15am today).
The forecast is for up to 6mm of rain today. There will be selective watering of the quicker areas of the course as expected rainfall diminishes.