1.15 - Markel Insurance Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (2m)
Castle Robin is the sole last-time-out winner in the opening contest, Charlie Longsdon's improver having won a Carlisle novice event three weeks ago with a front-running display. His opening mark looks fair, for all that this is a lot tougher and dominating won't be easy.
Induno hasn't been sighted since Boxing Day at Sedgefield where he failed in his bid to concede a winner' penalty, he has more on his play handicapping but the David Pipe team are firing just now so a close market check is demanded, especially with Fergus Gillard's useful claim.
The one that makes most appeal is PLAYA BLANCA for Seamus Mullins. His quest for a five-timer over hurdles was thwarted at Newbury last week by Tomorrow Mystery, the Paul Nicholls-trained winner appearing exceptionally well-handicapped (ran again at Taunton on Thursday and heavily favoured to score again).
On that basis, this mark of 124 looks well within range for this Zoffany gelding and he should be there when it matters.
For an each-way alternative it might be worth considering Magic Dancer, a dual course winner in the past including at this meeting in 2017. He has often run well here since and last month's effort here suggested perhaps a step back up in trip might see him in a better light, particularly now that he has dropped below his previous win-mark.
1.50 -Mucking Brilliant Paddy Power Handicap Chase (2m)
Plenty in with chances in this fascinating chase. On The Slopes should be sharper for his comeback at Showcase Meeting here while Magic Saint similarly had a pipe-opener at Aintree and should go well.
Beat The Judge ran a respectable third over C&D last month behind Rouge Vif in his hat-trick bid and is likely to feature prominently once more, while the likeable Eamon An Cnoic has form at this course and return from win surgery to being a new term with his stable in very encouraging form.
All those however are overlooked in the hope that FANION D'ESTRUVAL is bound for better things this season for Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsch.
Progressive in France for Guillaume Macaire, he made a really favourable impression on his UK bow at Newbury last November, dispatching a strong novice line-up with an economy of effort - form that worked out well.
He failed to justify favouritism over Christmas in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad at Kempton (fifth, beaten under five-lengths) but, again, that form stands up to scrutiny with second home Rouge Vif scoring off a mark of 151 here last month. Grand Sancy (third) and Al Dancer (fourth) have also advertised that Kempton form recently.
He should have no concerns going well off a break, handles good/soft alike and, rated 150, should make further progress in the months ahead given the latent ability his Newbury win hinted at.
2.25 - Sss Super Alloys Supports Racing Welfare Novices' Chase (2m4f)
Only four runners, but there could be plenty eagerness to get on with things as PROTEKTORAT, Southfield Stone and Mossy Fen have all displayed a willingness to front run lately.
The last-named was well beaten here at the Showcase despite a strong position in the betting and must improve to rock what are likely to be dominant pairing in the betting, though Nigel Twiston-Davies will be hopeful that perhaps he can do just that now dropped back in distance.
Southfield Stone was a winner at that October meeting here, making most of the running to see off three rivals for trainer Paul Nicholls on his first outing since a wind operation. This looks tougher on paper, chiefly down to the presence of impressive Carlisle winner Protektorat for the Skelton brothers.
That winning chase bow was over two-miles, but he also has run well over this trip around here in his hurdles career, passing the post in front on New Year's Day just gone only to lose the race in the stewards' room having come close with the second up the hill. He again ran well on Trials Day before a midfield finish in the Coral Cup at The Festival.
That course experience can count for plenty and he looks a novice chaser of some note. He also gets 3lb from Southfield Stone and should make the most of it.
3.00 - Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (3m6f)
A rematch between EASYSLAND and Tiger Roll, first and (distant) second at The Festival here in March.
The dual Grand National winner and twice winner of that Festival race, Tiger Roll was odds-on to complete a hat-trick, but he simply had no answer to the progressive French youngster in the home stretch and was beaten 17-lengths in the end. Worse still, Gordon Elliott's star is going to have to concede 4lb in this rematch.
Tiger Roll has enjoyed a spin on the Flat in Ireland in preparation for this but, all things considered, it would be a surprise if he's fully tuned up today. Getting back here in March and then on to Aintree is his mission this season and his canny trainer will be acutely aware of that.
In any case, he might not be able to topple David Cottin's charge. He was a good winner in December last year over C&D and proved that no fluke come the springtime. At six-years-old he's only getting started and could be set to dominate in this sphere for a while. His unbeaten Cheltenham record should remain intact, on these terms especially.
Last year's Welsh National winner Potters Corner is an interesting Cross Country recruit, albeit he's entitled to need this on his first run for 322 days. In that scenario, another newcomer to this unique discipline, Kings Temptation, might be the one for some each-way interest away from the top pair in the market.
3.35 - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m5f)
Nothing too original here but this simply looks a great opportunity for last month's C&D winner DOES HE KNOW to go in again and make it 3-3 for the season. He won well on his comeback at Ludlow early last month and encountered few problems on the way around here afterwards in what was a tougher test.
He was ridden confidently by David Bass in that success and the current form of the Kim Bailey yard (8-36 for a 31 per-cent recent strike-rate) can only be a source of encouragement. On ratings, his six rivals have plenty to find and, chances are, Does He Know is going to make further strides forward now.
Nicky Henderson's Grand Mogul won a Chepstow maiden hurdle last month in good fashion but this represents a fair step up the ladder for him on the bare form. That was a much-improved effort on reappearance for the ex-Irish bumper winner and so he, too, remains open to progress and looks next-best. Polish must improve his hurdling technique to remain in the fight but could be capable of that.
4.05 - Valda Energy Novices' Handicap Hurdle (2m½f)
The 'get out stakes' on day one of the November Meeting will be a tough place for punters, a wide open 17-runner handicap bringing Friday's action to a close.
The Bees Knees is progressing quickly for Fergal O'Brien and a 7lb penalty for his Musselburgh win nine days ago is far from prohibitive given the manner of that success on handicap bow. His claims are clear, but there's also some merit in stablemate Art Approval, who finished second over C&D three weeks ago in novice company and doesn't look too hard done by racing from an opening handicap mark of 118 in this field.
Likewise, ONE TRUE KING took the silver medal over C&D last month behind impressive winner Tegerek from the Jonjo O'Neil yard in a Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle.
The fourth Wild Max won next time out while Fair Mountain (11th) ran well behind a handicap blot at Newbury this month. Nigel Twiston-Davies son of Getaway was well clear of everything else behind the easy winner that afternoon and has gone up 2lb in the ratings for his trouble.
Sam Twiston-Davies takes over on board in the Cheltenham finale and could give his father a welcome winner at a meeting where the yard traditionally does well.