FOR THE vast majority of National Hunt racing fans, the season only really gets going on Saturday with the BetVictor Gold Cup (2.25pm) at Cheltenham.
There may be a new sponsor in town to replace Paddy Power, but little else about the brilliantly competitive race has changed, including the presence of a potential handicap blot.
More Of That was only beaten once over hurdles and won the World Hurdle back in 2014 with no less than Annie Power behind him.
He ran just three times over fences in his novice chasing season last year, winning his first two starts before bursting a blood vessel in the RSA Chase.
Jonjo O’Neill described him earlier in the week as potentially the best he has ever trained and a possible Cheltenham Gold Cup contender. He could well be thrown in off a mark of 154 over what could be his ideal trip.
However, he is pretty short at just 4/1 with Betway for one so fragile and, with his stable firmly on the cold list, I’m prepared to swerve him.
Don’t forget that Long Run couldn’t win this back in 2010 from just a 4lb higher mark and he went on to win the King George and the Gold Cup on his next two starts.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has won two of the last four renewals and fires four strong bullets at the race.
Last week’s winning novice Frodon is the shortest price of his quartet, but will have to be very special to win this as a four-year-old.
Of the other three, the market move this week suggests that As De Mee may prove the best, although this is a big step up from the race he won at Fontwell last time.
Another Nicholls runner, Art Mauresque, beat my main selection DOUBLE SHUFFLEin a thrilling finish at Chepstow last month.
Those with good memories will remember I tipped Tom George’s runner at the Festival this year when he ran really well to be third in the novices’ handicap chase.
He has reportedly strengthened up and, with his stable in such red hot form, must be backed each-way at 8/1 with Betway.
I’m also having a few quid each-way on last year’s runner-up BUYWISE at 16/1. He finished fifth two years ago and may well have won last season but for a shuddering mistake three out.
With the benefit of a spin over hurdles last month, I’m convinced he can go well for another in-form yard from just a 2lb higher mark than 12 months ago.
The pick of Sunday’s action is the Greatwood Hurdle (2.30pm) and the valuable prize can go to the Alan King-trained WINTER ESCAPE.
No prizes for picking the unbeaten five-year-old, but 3/1 with Betway could look massive if he is as good as they think he is.
We may look back later in the season and snigger at the fact that he lined up here from a mark of just 142.
There has been plenty of money around all week for the unexposed Leoncavallo, while his trainer Ben Pauling also saddles A Hare Breath.
A case can be made for both, but as long as the ground doesn’t deteriorate they should struggle to beat Winter Escape.
Double Shuffle 2.25pm Cheltenham (Saturday)
Buywisee/w 2.25pm Cheltenham (Saturday)
Winter Escape 2.30pm Cheltenham (Sunday)