There is always something special about Cheltenham be it the big Festival in March or any other meeting and this race has all the makings of an intriguing contest and with just the one past race to go on, the stats tell us very little. Dr Richard Newland took it in 2015 with Boondooma (9/1 Each Way) who was having his first race after a long lay-off (ten months), and the nine-year-old gelding is declared to run again, this time after eleven months off the track since pulling up in his only other start last season here over two and a half miles. He is obviously pretty fragile but he does go well fresh and/or his trainer has a knack of getting him prepared when needed and as a course and distance winner he deserves his place in our race preview. In 2015 he won off a rating of 147 and has to carry an extra five pounds now but may well have been aimed at this race specifically whereas others have bigger fish to fry later in the season.
Trainer Tom George has an interesting challenger in Always On The Run (8/1) who scored on his return to action in May at Kelso and has been kept back for the winter in the hope of bigger and better things this winter. That was only his fifth ever race over fences and his third victory so there is a lot to like about those stats and although he has been put up six pounds for that there is every chance there is an awful lot more to come over the months ahead and he could yet turn out to be a very serious player here, especially if the on course market speaks in his favour.
As we write Fox Norton (5/1) tops the betting as Neil Mulholland’s useful gelding steps out of novice company to take on his elders and betters. He did finish an eleven length third to Douvan in the Arkle Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and filed the same position (if further behind) at Aintree to the same rival in the Maghull Chase at the Grand National meeting. A rating of 146 does seem a few pounds too low to us and he seems sure to go well but we do suspect he has bigger fish to fry later in the season and may not be fully race fit ahead of his return.
Mrs Harrington intends to send Rock The World (14/1) over from Ireland to compete this afternoon and has already booked Barry Geraghty to ride, and that really does catch the eye. All his wins have been over two and a quarter miles or less so it was no great surprise to see him beaten last time out at Gowran Park when weakening before finishing an eased off last of eight to Ballycasey but he ought to be far happier back at this trip and could well pull off an each way surprise this afternoon at a decent price and a market watch is very much suggested.
As we can all remember, Colin Tizzard had a superb season last year with the likes of Cue Card and Thistlecrack leading the way but Ultragold (11/1) added to the prize money fund thanks to wins at Wincanton and Newbury and a second at Ayr to De Faoithesdream in a Listed handicap. Put up another four pounds for that run he will need to improve again this afternoon to take a hand in the finish but is only an eight-year-old and could well be even better this season for his up and coming stable.