TODAY is the day National Hunt enthusiasts have been waiting for since April, Cheltenham’s first fixture of the new season.
The two-day Showcase meeting has become increasingly popular in recent years, with a nice spread of competitive handicaps and decent novice events.
This afternoon’s action looks very competitive, so I’m going to focus on tomorrow’s card instead, which has some very interesting looking contests.
Final declarations won’t be out until later this morning, but my main fancy of the day is BIGMARTRE in the Randox Health Handicap Chase (3.10pm) at 4/1 with Coral.
Harry Whittington’s seven-year-old has won on his seasonal reappearance for the last three years and I think he can make it four in a row.
The son of Montmatre is a really good jumper, loves decent ground and will appreciate this drop back to two miles for this first start of the campaign.
He was last seen winning a Grade Two novice chase at Ayr’s Coral Scottish Grand National meeting in April.
That was an impressive display and he can be forgiven his disappointing effort in the Grade One JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
It was a bridge too far that day, so early on his chasing career, but back in handicap company he can make his class pay.
Last year’s winner Foxtail Hill is respected off a 2lb lower mark, although his past few efforts have been poor and he’ll need to improve.
Paul Nicholls’ yard is in great form so you cannot rule out either Modus or Tommy Silver if he runs them, but I’m happy to stick with Bigmartre as my sole selection.
The action gets underway with a competitive handicap chase over 3m1f (2.00pm).
Nigel Twiston-Davies had a good day 12 months ago, taking this prize with Cogry before landing the Randox Health Handicap with Foxtail Hill.
Of the two, I’d be keener on Cogry landing the double, as he’s another who goes well after a break.
He’s not the most reliable jumper, though, as he showed when falling in this race two years ago.
Neil Mulholland’s horses have been running really well and his SHANTOU VILLAGE looks a good each-way bet at 10/1 with Coral.
The eight-year-old had some very strong form over hurdles earlier in his career and was sent off the 7/2 favourite for the 2016 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
He’s certainly not done badly over fences, winning five of his 12 starts, including a fair race two starts back at Worcester.
Last time out he was a respectable fifth in the Kerry National, but a decent surface is vital for this son of Shantou and he’ll love conditions tomorrow.
Although there are plenty of dangers out there, everything looks set for him to put in a big performance.
The Masterson Holdings Hurdle (2.35pm) is a nice race for last season’s juveniles and We Have a Dream will be a hot favourite if he is declared.
However, the ground looks like being too quick for him and Alan King’s Redicean was catapulted into favouritism yesterday.
My worry about him is if he really handles Cheltenham, so I’m happy to back GUMBALL against him in receipt of 8lbs at around the 7/2 mark.
Philip Hobbs has been firing in the winners this week and he can pick up another nice prize here.
Shantou Village e/w 2.00pm Cheltenham
Gumball 2.35pm Cheltenham
Bigmartre 3.10pm Cheltenham