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12.40 - JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m1f)
This Triumph Hurdle Trial has attracted only four runners and it's likely to go the way of either Nassalam or SAGE ADVICE.
Gary Moore's charge was reminiscent of last year's would-be Triumph hero Goshen after demolishing his opposition in successive wins at Fontwell pre-Christmas, sauntering home with more than 100-lenghts to spare combined in those wins.
His flag was lowered this month at Chepstow when Adagio got his measure in the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle. David Pipe's charge brought strong form to that table and it was a good enough effort from Nassalam as the front pair were 20-lengths clear of the remainder. He sets the standard.
At the prices the suggestion is Sage Advice instead for Dr Richard Newland. Rated 80 on the Flat in Ireland, the Make Believe gelding was mightily impressive at Kempton in his winning hurdles bow the same afternoon Nassalam was going down battling in Wales.
That was his first start following wind surgery and there ought to be plenty more to come from him. He gets a narrow vote to down the market leader.
Cabot Cliffs was 10-lengths behind the aforementioned Adagio here in November and Dan Skelton's charge has plenty improvement to find, as does Yggdrasil having finished down the field in the Finale at Chepstow.
1.15 - Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase (2m4½f)
All nine of these contenders can be given some sort of a chance so the market vibes should be watched with interest. There won't be any secret in the tactics from High Up In The Air, who comes here bidding for a four-timer over fences after front-running successes at Lingfield and Plumpton (twice this month). There's no guarantee we've seen the best of him but this is certainly a tougher challenge.
David Pipe's Umbrigado ran into a useful sort of Dan Skelton's in Northofthewall when second on chasing bow at Uttoxeter in early December and has since gone one better when odds-on at Fontwell on heavy ground. He makes his move into handicaps now and is high on the list with improvement to come.
Nestor Park is surely nearing a first win over fences. He's been second at Newbury over 2m4f/3m2f this season either side of a lesser showing at Aintree in December when his jumping let him down. Bryony Frost is a good ally for him in that department but it remains a worry, more so than the drop back in trip here.
Lieutenant Rocco has run well in very small fields in three chase starts thus far, including in the re-routed Dipper Novices' Chase at Wincanton three weeks ago. That form suggests a mark of 140 is fair going into handicaps but he'll need to run at least to that in order to give weight and a beating to these.
ALNADAM didn't fire at Kempton over Christmas but his earlier success at Sandown (2m4f, soft) was a promising bit of form on only his second start over fences. Third home Killer Clown turned the form around on Boxing Day but both the fourth and fifth home were winners since and it might be that the Skelton's runner bounces back here. This track ought to lend itself to him and he is fancied to rebound in good style.
1.50 - Paddy Power Millionaire Trophy Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m4½f)
Caribean Boy was turned over at odds-on at Ascot just before Christmas. That form was franked by the gutsy all-the-way success of Dashel Drasher at the Berkshire track last weekend but there's still a lingering concern that Nicky Henderson's charge will be wilting late on up the hill in what are set to be testing conditions.
This looks a very competitive handicap and it will take some winning. Midnight Shadow is only 1lb higher than when second to runaway winner Chatham Street Lad in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup here last month and must be considered a leading contender as such.
Clan Legend on the other hand has gone up 8lb for his Aintree win in December and the 11-year-old must defy a career-high mark on what is a belated first visit to this part of the Cotswolds.
Not so Kauto Riko, whose 50-1 fourth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November was a fine effort after twice coming up shy in the Festival Plate in 2019/2020. He's on the same mark today and could have place claims with the ground conditions in his favour.
Dual course winner (hurdles/fences) Al Dancer was third in that big November handicap and should put behind a rare off day when he failed to fire back here last month. He's not written off in haste but the vote goes to BENATAR instead for Gary and Josh Moore.
He was returning from a near two-year absence when third in Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last time. He didn't do himself any favours pulling hard through the race but he went ominously well for a long way. He's had 49 days to get over those exertions and they left the impression he's on a workable mark of 142.
2.25 - Paddy Power '45 Sleeps To Cheltenham' Cotswold Chase (Grade 2, 3m1½f)
A really pleasing renewal of this Grade 2 Gold Cup Trial as last year's Blue Ribband bridesmaid Santini is back to defend his crown alongside 2018 Festival kingpin Native River.
They clashed at Aintree in December in a race where the low sun made a mockery of the contest, the re-opposing Lake View Lad coming home ahead of the pair in what amounted to a flat-speed test in the end. It will be a major shock if Brian Hughes' partner can uphold that form.
Santini has since finished fifth in the King George at Kempton, a top-level contest that was always deemed unlikely to play to his strengths. This therefore is set to be the first tailor-made test he has faced since finding only Al Boum Photo too strong in the Gold Cup back in March.
He's a key player but regular rider Nico de Boinville is absent, off to Doncaster instead to ride Shishkin, and Aidan Coleman will have to get to know this sometimes lazy racer fairly quickly.
Native River has won 2-6 starts since his career-defining Gold Cup success in 2018. That was a gargantuan effort from the front and last season's wins at Aintree and Newbury didn't ultimately deter the feeling it left a lasting mark on him. There's a Denman-esque notion to Native River now. He's still very good but maybe just blunted slightly by his gallant Gold Cup triumph. This is his chance to disprove that theory.
Yala Enki was third in the Welsh National this month before last week's determined Taunton win. He'll fancy conditions but three quick trips to the well are a worry as he takes on Grade 1 performers now.
Saint Calvados has a stamina-query against his name and, while his Newcastle success in December was as heart-warming as it was bursting with determination, this asks plenty more of the enigmatic former Festival winner Yorkhill.
The Conditional has it to prove in this company and so we land on BRISTOL DE MAI.
The grey is a three-time Grade 1 winner (all at Haydock) but he has also finished third in a Gold Cup here and second in this race last term. It's therefore harsh to dismiss him as not being a Cheltenham horse. He's the apple of Nigel Twiston-Davies' eye and the grey will seemingly never get a better Cheltenham chance than on the forecast heavy ground.
He seems to have been around forever but Bristol De Mai is just turned 10 - only a year older than Santini - and in these trying conditions he may avenge last year's defeat to the Seven Barrows inmate in this very race.
3.00 - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m4½f)
The unbeaten Bear Ghylls is the main attraction as he makes his first foray into graded company. Nicky Martin has got a very useful performer on her hands and he's 4-4 under rules. He made light of an opening handicap mark of 130 at Exeter (2m2½f, soft) this month and is well worth of this chance.
He's a shade of odds-on to extend his winning sequence and he could well be up to it. However, his trainer suggested in the wake of his Exeter win that 'his jumping is foot-perfect at home, but it's appalling in his races' and that's got to be a worry. He will need to bring his home-work to the exam room now.
If the market leader is to be overturned then the Skelton brothers are well-placed with WILDE ABOUT OSCAR. He looks a smart prospect in his autumn wins at Uttoxeter and Aintree, the latter over this trip, and he was sent off 7-2 in the betting for the Grade 1 Challow at Newbury last month despite the presence of Bravemansgame and Star Gate in a strong contest. He made a bad jumping error four out in that race and that all but cost him his chance. He's better than a 'P' in the form figures suggests and he can quickly repair that lost momentum.
Back-to-back wins at Hereford have got Ben Pauling's Optimise Prime on the upgrade, though significantly more is needed now, while Annual Invictus is also firmly on the climb after a trio of wins at Lingfield and Plumpton for Chris Gordon since late-November.
3.35 - Paddy Power Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2, 3m)
PAISLEY PARK can emulate the Venetia Williams-trained Lady Rebecca (1999-2001) by completing a hat-trick of Cleeve Hurdle wins.
Emma Lavelle's star faltered at the Festival last March but there were mitigating factors for that in the form of a defibrillating heart. He was a gutsy second to Thyme Hill on his comeback at Newbury when giving away weight in November and last month he avenged that defeat, running down the upstart to take the Grade 1 Long Walk at Ascot (heavy) by a neck.
The pair will surely have a 'settling' third instalment of their burgeoning rivalry back here in just over six weeks' time but, for now, the path is clear for Paisley Park to retain his Cleeve crown.
Itchy Feet was a very smart two-mile novice hurdler (third in the 2019 Supreme here at The Festival) and has produced strong efforts despite three defeats over fences as a second-season chaser this term. He'll have to prove his stamina back over timber but if he lasts home he can give the jolly something to think about.
Main Fact saw his superb winning sequence (nine wins on Flat/over Hurdles) ended in the Long Walk at Ascot. He couldn't live with the likes of Paisley Park there and it unlikely to trouble the market leader on form. Perhaps he'll be ridden to pick up the scraps this time and he could do well in that scenario.
Unowhatimeanharry rolled back the years with his Aintree handicap success in November on his seasonal bow but he found it tough going over this C&D since. He won this in 2017 but any time he's come across Paisley Park in the recent past it hasn't come off well. The teenager is not likely to cause an upset.
4.10 - SSS Super Alloys Handicap Hurdle (2m1f)
Martinhal improve on the back of a wind operation to break his maiden at Exeter earlier this month and he's got claims of a big run now moved into handicaps with his confidence boosted.
Witness Protection meanwhile was never going better than at the line in his Chepstow success three weeks ago and is high on the shortlist too.
Time Flies By faced a stiff task in his Ascot handicap bow and Nicky Henderson's charge is capable of better but this might be a good spot for the experienced CHTI BALKO for a bang in-form Donald McCain yard.
He returned to form with a wide-margin success last month at Haydock on heavy going and will love the conditions here. He was beaten since from this mark at Kempton but this exacting test will place more emphasis on his stamina and the 7lb claim of Theo Gillard could result in another strong showing for their fledging partnership.