2.05 - Masterson Holdings Hurdle (2m½f)
Last year's juvenile hurdling crop make the first step on their upwards journey here with the likes of Allmankind (third here in the Triumph Hurdle at The Festival) and Botox Has leading players on the formbook.
Dan Skelton's runner held sway when they clashed at the November Meeting in a Grade 2 over C&D (just over two lengths too strong) and was impressive on heavy ground at Chepstow over Christmas before that Festival run here in March when third after the unfortunate departure of Goshen dramatically altered the picture late on.
Their November clash is strong form and Botox Has was very impressive a month later when landing a Triumph Hurdle Trial here by five lengths having made all. Both are open to plenty of progress this term and demand huge respect on their return.
This represents a step up in class for Stratagem while Nordano has plenty to find with Allmankind on their meetings last season, but the latter does at least have a run on the Flat to aid fitness.
Fitness won't be a worry either for Irish raider ANNA BUNINA for trainer John McConnell. She's become a useful hurdler over the summer, winning at Cork and Sligo before an excellent second on handicap debut at Listowel last month over this sort of trip.
Richard Johnson is on board this afternoon and, with the fillies' allowance, she's a big danger getting lots of weight from the boys.
2.40 - Best Odds At Matchbook Novices' Chase (2m4f)
Only a quartet of runners for this novices' chase but a thoroughly interesting contest nonetheless, with three of them already boasting winning form over fences.
The exception is Pileon for the old alliance of Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson. The son of Yeats progressed rapidly over hurdles last season in four runs, culminating in a short-head defeat over this track and trip in the Martin Pipe at The Festival in March. He could prove a tough nut to crack getting 5lb from his three rivals if taking to the discipline.
Southfield Stone finished second in a Kempton Grade 2 novice when last spotted in February behind the useful Who Dares Wins and has to be greatly feared here having undergone a wind operation in the break. His trainer and jockey have been hoovering up races in recent weeks.
Slight preference on the day is for NOT THAT FUISSE, with Dan Skelton's charge having won a shade cosily on his return to action at Perth last month. He's a strong travelling type and his previous Kempton second in February reads well with the winner following up afterwards. That race-fitness attained in Scotland 30 days ago could be a key factor in rewarding the Skelton brothers with a Showcase success.
3.15 - Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (3m)
A tough handicap on paper but also one in which NEVILLE'S CROSS makes strong appeal on the back of his Hereford romp 11 days ago. Tom Lacey's five-year-old had lots in hand and was some 20 lengths clear by the time he went by the winning post.
The handicapper has acted accordingly and he's up 12lb in the ratings but looks a massive contender even allowing for that.
Robbie Power takes over in the saddle (Richard Johnston partners Flinck) and that's no bad thing, the rider knowing every blade of grass around this place. He's thriving over these staying trips and should do so once more.
Tobefair was sixth in Stayers' at The Festival when last seen out and has his top-weight burden reduced somewhat by the 5lb of Jack Tudor while Flinck comes here having warmed up with a pleasing third in the Silver Trophy at Haydock earlier in the month. He is low-mileage with scope for further improvement and is a player if taking to this new trip.
Lock's Corner is another on the upgrade and climbing in the ratings for Jonjo O'Neill while some interest is due to the long-absent The Devils Drop for Alan King - though perhaps more with a view to future endeavours given he's been off almost 800 days.
Story Of Friends has been in good tune for the David Pipe team recently and remains unexposed at this sort of distance. With Fergus Gillard taking off 7lb, he's one of the each-way angles into the race.
3.50 - Matchbook Betting Exchange Handicap Chase (3m1f)
A race that revolves around Frodon, the 2019 Ryanair Chase winner and a horse that has won five times over fences at this famous amphitheatre. He's superior to these rivals but faces no easy task conceding upwards of a stone in weight all round. He wasn't at his best last season but still pocketed a Kempton Grade 2 under his partner in crime Bryony Frost in January before surrendering that Ryanair crown in March.
No surprise if he makes a bold bid but, also, no shame should the weight prove telling in the closing stages.
WEST APPROACH is another with a fine record at this course, albeit with only a lone success to show for it. He won the big Grade 3 handicap at the November Meeting a year ago having run well on his comeback at this meeting behind The Conditional.
Harry Cobden retains the ride today (pulled up in the Stayers' Hurdle here in March) and this is going to be a test of his skills.
West Approach needs severe coaxing at times but he can arrive with a late challenge and, getting weight from Frodon, has the ability to win this.
Cogry typically runs well in this contest and should do so again while the mare Sensulano could make further progress upped in distance this season for the Noel Williams yard and has in-form Paddy Brennan for company.
4.25 - Lara Telfer Reined In For Racing Welfare Novices' Hurdle (3m)
Six runners and all have their merits in a wide open novices' contest. John McConnell is sending over a couple of runners for this card and his improving STREETS OF DOYEN may be the answer under Richard Johnson.
He's in cracking form and took his record to 3-3 over this trip when winning somewhat cosily at Cork last weekend. He looks a staying hurdler to keep onside for now and can advertise that fact with a Cheltenham success on what may be a landmark afternoon for the trainer with Anna Bunina fancied on the card too.
Minella Encore left Willie Mullins a maiden over timber but got on the scoresheet at the first time of asking for new handler Dr Richard Newland at Uttoxeter in a 2m4f good-ground maiden last month. There's every chance of more to come from him, with this longer trip favourable now.
The Macon Lugnatic won back-to-back races at Doncaster in the spring and is an interesting player upped in distance back from a layoff for Ben Pauling and Nico de Boinville.
5.00 - Ryman Stationery Cheltenham Business Club Amateur Jockeys' Handicap Chase (3m1f)
Jen's Boy is a fair starting point for the Nicky Henderson and Sam Waley-Cohen partnership. He has been second in all three starts since going over fences and should run well again. Blinkers were tried last time at Hexham and are retained here but he's going to be well found in the betting for one with a habit of finishing second-best.
Ballymalin could go well returned from a break while the teenager Call Me Vic has been winning point-to-points and is not easily discounted on first start for the in-form Fergal O'Brien yard with this looking a good race to target.
Marginal preference in a tough race goes to OSCA LOCA for Tim Vaughan. The mare is lightly-raced for seven and won a Hunter Chase at Cork in good style in April 2019 on her sole previous attempt over regulation fences. She's twice won point-to-points before and was perfectly entitled to need the outing over hurdles at Chepstow on stable bow recently, her first run in 536 days.
There should be more to come now.
5.35 - Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Standard Open NH Flat Race (2m½f)
This should be an informative bumper with some potentially useful types locking horns. The top five on the racecard arrive here with one start in a bumper and one win under belts. The market therefore should be hugely useful in terms of ranking their hopes.
The pair that make strongest appeal without seeing the betting are Major Robinson and SMURPHY ENKI.
The former took a Thurles bumper in March just before lockdown for Stuart Crawford and has since moved to David Pipe's team at Pond House. He's got plenty of scope but the beaten horses from that Irish win have not enhanced the form.
Smurphy Enki meanwhile had some form in points before arriving with Chris Gordon and he routed 11 rivals on rules bow at Wincanton at the start of March. He looks a smart prospect on that evidence, with the well-beaten fifth Song Of The Hunter a maiden hurdle winner at Taunton shortly afterwards.