Commander can return with a bang in Argento Chase with big guns missing

Bill Esdaile
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R what has been a most unwanted hiatus from National Hunt racing we have to hope and pray that tomorrow’s fantastic card at Cheltenham gets the green light.

Festival clues will come thick and fast from the first race to the last and the highlight for many will be the return of Sprinter Sacre in the rescheduled Victor Chandler Chase (1.50pm). There is very little more to be said about this animal; just sit back and enjoy.

The other feature race is the Grade Two Argento Chase (2.25pm) and it is hugely disappointing that both Bobs Worth and Tidal Bay are likely to miss out on the race.

The former would have been a strong fancy, but in the leading duo’s absence I can’t see past 2010 Gold Cup winner IMPERIAL COMMANDER. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 12-year-old has been off the track for nearly two years, but his record when fresh alleviates most concerns about that absence.

In five seasonal reappearances he has only been beaten once and that was a nose defeat to the great Kauto Star in the 2009 Betfair Chase. He also has to carry up to 10lb less than his rivals tomorrow and I don’t think there is anything to be scared of in the line-up.

Grands Crus would be a threat on the best of his form, while I would also give a little each-way squeak to Wayward Prince, although he has to carry a penalty and concede weight to a number of runners, including my selection.

THE NEW ONE is scheduled to line up in the following Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle Trial (3.00pm) and he will surely take all the beating following his demolition job at Warwick a fortnight ago.

It remains to be seen who will take him on but the connections of Puffin Billy seem happy enough to avoid him and there is every chance Nigel Twiston-Davies’ contender is a future star in the making.

Yes, he has some minor jumping frailties, but he is unbeaten over hurdles, has won at the track and should strip even fitter for his Warwick run, which is a very scary proposition for his rivals.

The Cleeve Hurdle (3.35pm) looks a straight match between Oscar Whisky and Reve De Sivola, with the stamina doubts of the former the only thing stopping me putting him up. If he wins, he’ll be a very short price for the World Hurdle, but I’m happy to keep a watching brief.

It’s difficult to know who is running in the handicaps, but the one I want to be with, if lining up, is Jonjo O’Neill’s JOHNS SPIRIT in the 2m 5f Novices’ Handicap Chase (12.40pm).

He travelled brilliantly last time at Sandown before running out of puff and a nine length second to the progressive Katenko over a trip too far is very strong form.

AP McCoy is jocked up and off 10st 11lb I fancy the pair to go very close indeed. Vino Griego, tipped up in this column last weekend for Ascot’s abandoned meeting, should also run well for the in-form Gary Moore yard.

Follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile for all my latest views.

■ Pointers…

JOHNS SPIRIT e/w 12.40pm Cheltenham
IMPERIAL COMMANDER 2.25pm Cheltenham
THE NEW ONE 3.00pm Cheltenham