THERE may only be the eight runners in the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.20pm) but it promises to be one of the races of the meeting with exciting Irish juveniles Zanahiyr and Quilixios taking on recent Kempton winner Tritonic.
The market suggests that Zanahiyr only has to turn up to win, but Fitzdares 6/5 favourite may have a little more on his plate than those odds suggest, and the race may be best watched.
One of the best betting races of the afternoon may well be the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (4.50pm) where 24 runners are set to line up.
Willie Mullins is always respected in a race like this and his pair Gentleman De Mee and Galopin Des Champs look likely types for this race.
Both are relatively unexposed and could easily be thrown in off their current marks.
However, the former is as short as 4/1 with Fitzdares and the application of a hood and the likely faster ground are slight concerns.
Stablemate Galopin Des Champs will find these waters a bit calmer than when chasing Appreciate It at Grade One level last time.
He may relish the step up in trip but that’s an unknown too.
Instead, I’m taking a chance on GABYNAKO for Stayers Hurdle-winning trainer Gavin Cromwell at 8/1.
You can ignore his last run over an inadequate two miles as the stable were also out of form.
He is better judged on his third to Bob Olinger back in January and a reproduction of that form will see him go close.
Another to take a chance on is FOLCANO who sneaked in here as a first reserve.
His stable has a great record in this and is worth taking a chance on at 12/1 with Fitzdares as he could be off a fair mark.
Last year’s St James’s Place Festival Challenge Cup (3.40pm) winner and runner-up are back for more in the shape of It Came To Pass and Billaway with the latter 3/1 favourite to gain his revenge.
However, I like the look of last season’s fourth STALKER WALLACE each-way at 10/1 with Fitzdares.
He is ridden by Mark Walsh and there are grounds to believe he may be a little over-priced back on a sounder surface.
Stalker Wallace e/w 3.40pm Cheltenham (Friday)
Gabynako e/w 4.50pm Cheltenham (Friday)
Folcano e/w 4.50pm Cheltenham (Friday)