Many see this Cheltenham meeting as the sign that the National Hunt season is seriously underway, and this difficult to solve handicap is one of the reasons for that though process. Not one winning favourite in the last five years and odds up to 14/1 it looks sure to be competitive once again in 2016, though Philip Hobbs has won two of the last ten renewals and looks a good place to start with Bold Henry (7/1) who won this very race in 2014. Rated just 125 that years he has to run off 140 this year so has an awful lot more weight to carry, but last least we know he handles both track and trip. Last time out he was pulled up at Punchestown in a valuable handicap after bursting blood vessels so he has a bit to prove here, but Barry Geraghty looks sure to ride for owner J P McManus, and he can do very little wrong at present.
If you want a horse with more experience then De Faoithesdream (11/1 Each Way) could be a good horse to have on your side after fifteen runs over fences which have been rewarded with four wins and two second places. Last time out he won at Ayr by a length and three quarters from Colin Tizzard’s Ultragold which is decent enough form, and although he has been put up six pounds for that he seems to be a late maturing sort with more improvement possible and will go close to shrugging that off this afternoon and represents some decent each-way value at the price.
Now a nine-year-old, Next Sensation (11/1) never quite lived up to the high hopes of connections after winning here in the Grand Annual Chase at the 2015 Festival, but twelve more races have only seen one more win (at Newton Abbot in late September), and he was tailed off and pulled up last time out at Kempton and needs to do a lot better than that to take a hand this afternoon.
Martin Keighley loves nothing more than a winner around here and he has entered Johnny Og (14/1) here and he is in decent enough form to get involved. He has won two of his last three races, and three of his last five, including a four length victory at Stratford last time out when making most of the running and never looking like getting caught. Up seven pound for that he needs to improve again for what would be a career best effort but there isn’t a more likeable trainer out there no one will begrudge him any successes he may get.
Meanwhile, Henry de Bromhead will no doubt be tuning on to see how Colin Tizzard gets on with Sizing Codelco (7/2) as he makes his debut for his new yard having left the Irish handler for owners Ann and Alan Potts. The seven-year-old son of top winter sire Flemensfirth has already bettered his hurdles rating over fences but now the pressure is on to see if they can get any more improvement out of him and if they can he can be a serious player this afternoon.
David Pipe’s Impulsive American (7/1) is still only a four-year-old (until January 1st anyway) but has already raced over fences four times, winning two of them and finishing third in one of the other two. His jumping let him down last time when third to Special Catch at Ayr but if those issues have been ironed out on the schooling grounds he could go well at a decent price though even he won’t want the going to be too fast by race day.
Lastly for our race preview and Martin Todhunter has wasted no time in boking the excellent Noel Fehily to ride Monbeg River (8/1) who will have a fitness edge over some after a second to Owen Na View at Wetherby last month. Up just a pond for that he doesn’t really look quite good enough but then again this is a handicap and they will no doubt try to use his fitness to their advantage if at all possible.