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1.15 - mallardjewellers.com Novices' Chase (3m)
The Big Breakaway will be a short-price favourite in the opener and, in many ways, it will be a touch disappointing if he's defeated on chase debut as this has always seemed certain to be the environment in which he would thrive.
That said, Colin Tizzard's string are tending to come on for a run this season and with viable and race-fit opponents taking him on, close to even money looks too short despite the theory the Ballymore fourth will have a good season ahead of him.
Wolf Of Windlesham made an encouraging start to his chasing career at Fakenham, accounting for a nice sort in Young Wolf and should have a role to play, while The Butcher Said is already 2-3 over fences this autumn but facing into his toughest assignment by some margin now.
Similar sentiments go for The Mighty Don who relished the battle at Chepstow last month when producing a career-best on his seasonal comeback.
The one that appeals most if there's to be an upset is SOLDIER OF LOVE for Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden. He's looked a different proposition since having a wind operation last winter. He looked set for a win at Kempton in March bar a late fall and, post-Lockdown, recorded a four-timer over fences from July-September.
He came here last month and finished a gallant second (clear of the remainder) behind Galvin over C&D, that Gordon Elliott-trained winner now being firm favourite for the National Hunt Chase in March. A repeat of that effort will put him right in the mix, especially if there's any rust on The Big Breakaway.
1.50 - Planteur At Chapel Stud Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 3m3½f)
WEST APPROACH won this contest 12 months ago from 6lb lower in the ratings and Colin Tizzard's returning challenger is hard to oppose again. Just like last year, he had finished a noble second behind The Conditional over shorter at The Showcase meeting three weeks hence; this time being the one that made Frodon display all his guts and determination last month when clear 'best of the rest'.
He appeared to relish this longer trip a year ago, going through the race with ease in his relaxed/lazy style and ultimately coming through with a strong and irresistible challenge to win. Harry Cobden gave him the perfect steer here last month, only to find Frodon unwavering in front, and compensation may await them now.
Robbie Power of course was on board for the win last year and his mount Discorama could be the principle threat. Paul Nolan's charge has figures of 223 in three trips to this venue over hurdles/fences and can count himself unfortunate not to have scored.
He was second in the 2019 National Hunt Chase at The Festival - the final time that race was run as a four-miler - ensuring he'll have no qualms at the distance and also placed behind The Conditional in the Ultima in March. He was edged out on his return at Galway last month over a trip shorter than ideal from this mark of 150 and looks set for a big role now.
Nicky Henderson's Brave Eagle (first-time blinkers) and Midlands National second Captain Drake (fit from a recent hurdles success at Uttoxeter) are also worth shortlisting.
2.25 - Shloer Chase (Grade 2, 2m)
Six runners for the Shloer Chase - only around since 2009 but already vaunted for producing some superb moments - and it looks an absolute belter of a race.
We have the Arkle winner Put The Kettle On, the 2019 Arkle hero Duc Des Genievres and last year's winner DEFI DU SEUIL; and that's before considering Riders Onthe Storm (going well when he fell in the Ryanair in March) and Rouge Vif - extremely impressive over C&D last month.
Harry Whittington's charge is a good starting point. He demolished his rivals here three weeks ago and thrust himself in the mix as a possible Champion Chase contender when doing so.
This race was always a likely stopping point in his attempt to further that case. This is an acid test of sorts against quality rivals, but he put up a fast time in that win and he's a major player with a repeat effort, make no mistake.
Of course, he was 20-lengths behind the mare Put The Kettle On here in March when she won the Arkle. Henry De Bromhead's charge hardly put a foot wrong last season over fences (5-6) and was determined up the hill here when Fakir D'Oudairies arrived eager to burst her bubble. She's getting nice weight from the boys now and deserves her place near the front of the market.
Riders Onthe Storm improved last term to win all three starts for Nigel Twiston-Davies before his fall three out in the Ryanair Chase. He was holding a good chance when he came down and is respected here, but he'll have to jump better (previous Ascot success not perfect either).
Duc Des Genievres hasn't won since the Arkle here in 2019. He lost his way last season and has left Willie Mullins to join Paul Nicholls since. He's had a wind op since running fifth in that Ryanair Chase, but may be best watched as his new trainer hasn't - to date - been working any miracles with the Sullivan Bloodstock horses he got from Ireland.
And so we land on Defi Du Seuil for Philip Hobbs, with Richard Johnson back on board following the retirement of Barry Geraghty. He won this last year before enjoying Grade 1 Tingle Creek and Clarence House wins in an impressive season.
A blockbuster Queen Mother Champion Chase clash with Altior and Chacun Pour Soi was melted away when those rivals were late withdrawals and, as it happened, Defi Du Seuil ran a long way below his best in a race where Politologue bludgeoned his rivals from the front.
That's a strange performance to assess, given that following a strong pace and pouncing late should have been the perfect scenario for Defi Du Seuil against a rival he'd twice beaten already last term.
He clearly wasn't himself and it might just pay to forgive that one bad run. Previous to that he was mightily impressive and he won this on reappearance last year, defeating Politologue in doing so. He gives weight to Rouge Vif and Put The Kettle On but, at his best, is capable of mastering them.
3.00 - Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m½f)
Trainer Alan King looks for a third Greatwood Hurdle in four years and he's got last year's hero Harambe (6lb higher now) alongside Edwardstone. The latter ended last season with a fair sixth in the Supreme here and should give a good account for the Barbury Castle team.
Heading the market is Dan Skelton's Proschema, winner last time out at Wetherby and bidding to make his first foray into handicaps a winning one from a mark 131. He has more progress in him for a yard that won this in 2016.
Jonjo O'Neill's Tegerek won well here last month, form that second boosted on Friday, and should have a say despite going up 8lb while the unexposed Cormier is worth considering at a decent price after wins at Uttoxeter and Fakenham for Brian Ellison and Danny McMenamin (trainer/jockey of 2018 winner Nietzsche). He gets an opening mark of 136 and can be competitive.
With 18 runners there are lots with chances, of course, but the one that makes strongest appeal is Paul Nicholls' Chepstow winner THYME WHITE.
He won a Listed Musselburgh race in February before being well held in the Fred Winter at The Festival here in March. He looked rather well before his comeback in Wales last month and duly travelled like a dream for Harry Cobden before putting his race to bed with plenty to spare.
An 11lb hike puts him off a mark of 141 now - enough to get him into the range from which 12 of the last 18 Greatwood winners have come. His Ditcheat handler has won this race three times, including with promising four-year-olds Brampour (2011) and Old Guard (2015).
Like Thyme White, they'd made winning starts to their new campaigns before coming here and, in the colours of Cheltenham icon Big Buck's, he can land the Greatwood Hurdle.
3.35 - Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m)
Third Time Lucki heads the betting for Dan and Harry Skelton after odds-on successes at Uttoxeter and Wetherby last month. He is clearly well thought of by connections and can have a forward role despite this rise in class. He was a smart bumper performer last season (fourth in the Champion here) and could well improve for taking on a decent field.
Skelton's old boss Paul Nicholls saddles Fidelio Vallis, whose Kempton Listed second last month behind Mrs Hyde reads well in light of the mare having taken the scalp of Verdana Blue since at Wetherby. With Nicholls and Cobden in scintillating form, they aren't passed over lightly.
The one to hold the vote though is COURTANDBOULD for trainer Fergal O'Brien. He's been going the right way since mid-summer and finished a good second in the Persian War Novices' Hurdle at Chepstow last month over 2m3½f behind McFabulous - a stayer of some potential it seems.
He will probably go along in front under Paddy Brennan and can make this a proper test with that stamina in mind. A stiff two-miles around here could be just his optimum.
Next Best: Fidelio Vallis
4.05 - High Sheriff Of Gloucestershire Standard Open NH Flat Race (Listed, 2m½f)
A strong bumper to end the card and one that sees a heavyweight tussle between Paul Nicholls and Gordon Elliott with Stage Star and WEESEEKHIMHERE locking horns.
The Ditcheat runner was an impressive debut winner at Chepstow just 19 days ago, drawing away nicely in the manner of a smart horse. Clearly he has scope for plenty improvement on that initial run.
The Irish raider benefits from more experience and just about edges the verdict on that basis. He was turned over on debut at Roscommon in July on good ground (impeded when challenging and eased home) but has since achieved decisive wins at Galway and Listowel on softer turf.
There isn't much to choose between the market leaders but the Irish raider just sways it. Once-raced winners Grandeur D'ame and Conceroe, as well as Newton Abbot second Good Risk At All, aren't overlooked completely in a finale where the betting should prove very informative.
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