12.15 - SSS Super Alloys Handicap Hurdle (2m1f)
Last month's C&D winner Lively Citizen probably has a decent shot at the follow-up for trainer David Jeffreys. His form figures at this track read 212 and a 5lb rise could be within his reach.
Fergal O'Brien's runners here are always to be noted and Byzantine Emperor is in fine fettle, with three wins in his last four. They included holding off Seaborough to win at Doncaster last month on his first start since July having undergone a wind operation. A new mark of 122 doesn't rule him out.
Last-time-out scorers Hydroplane and Hystery Bere are likely to be close to the pace and that could help THE WIDDOW MAKER to shine. Colin Tizzard's charge has shown a fondness for front-running and was perhaps guilty of exerting too much energy early on at Kempton last month.
He'd previously scored in good style under this rider at Wincanton on good ground, so conditions here are no worry, and with the stable back in decent form now he's got an each-way claim.
Selection: The Widdow Maker
Next Best: Lively Citizen
12.45 - JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m1f)
This looks a very decent Triumph Trial on paper, with three of the eight currently unbeaten and all bar Moka De Vassy winners already.
Moulins Clermont did as he was entitled to when scoring this month at Sandown for in-form Gary Moore but must now show he can progress on this faster surface.
Pied Piper was rated 90 on the Flat with the Gosden team last season and he turned over a hotpot at Punchestown on New Year's Eve on hurdles/stable bow for Gordon Elliott. That form looks reliable and further progress is forecast now with Davy Russell here to continue the partnership.
Silver Shade made a winning hurdles bow this month at Kempton (2m, soft) for trainer Milton Harris but this looks tougher on paper and plenty more is demanded.
By contrast, ICEO's December win over the same course and distance (also on soft) was some ten seconds faster. The hooded French import was a bit keen early but, considering the lead was a disputed one, he did well and powered away from the second last to win in clear-cut fashion on first start for Paul Nicholls.
Both that win and his earlier success in France came on soft ground but, assuming he handles conditions now, Harry Cobden's mount looks the one to beat.
Next Best: Pied Piper
1.20 - Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase (2m4½f)
A field of eight and you'd do well to rule any of them out in confidence, with all arriving in decent form.
Goa Lil was a winner at Newbury 10 days ago when dropped in trip by Nigel Twiston-Davies and should give another good account here. Oscar Elite has faced tough challenges in races won by Threeunderthrufive and L'homme Presse in two of his three chase starts thus far. With the Colin Tizzard string now firing again, this looks a more reasonable proposition after he contested the Dipper here on New Year's Day.
Solo was runner-up in chases at Ascot and Newbury before also taking on a Grade 2 at Kempton over Christmas, that race landed by smart Edwardstone. Paul Nicholls' charge returns to a handicap and is another that should relish the ease in class.
Top-weight IMPERIAL ALCAZAR bumped into the improving Pat's Fancy when second at Chepstow last month. Fergal O'Brien's charge was a bit keen early on over that near three-mile journey and may not have seen it out on very testing ground. A mark of 144 is reasonable and he could open his account over a track and trip where he was a Listed novice scorer over timber.
Selection: Imperial Alcazar
Next Best: Solo
1.55 - Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m4½f)
Lots of Cheltenham handicapping regulars here with the likes of Coole Cody, Magic Saint and Spiritofthegames all capable of excelling. The first-named pair are joint top weights for this contest.
Coole Cody won the Racing Post Gold Cup in December but was only mid-pack on New Year's Day from this mark, while Magic Saint was a well-held fourth in the latter contest. He's been eased 2lb since but might again settle for a supporting role.
Spiritofthegames is something of a quirky sort, though he has plenty talent when things come together.
Farinet was fancied for the December race won by Coole Cody only to be pulled up before the second last when well held. He got back on track at Sandown this month and the Venetia Williams team are thriving now. The concern for him is surely the ground, as he's set to encounter the fastest conditions of his career.
EDEN DU HOUX was campaigned over staying trips last season by David Pipe as a novice but he's now improving having coming back in trip. He won on his comeback at Ffos Las (2m, soft) following a wind op and has since chased home Frenchy Du Large at Chepstow this month over 2m3f.
He should be able to cope with this trip on past evidence and despite a rise in class, he can give a strong account under 10st 9lb.
Selection: Eden De Houx
Next Best: Farinet
2.30 - Paddy Power Cotswold Chase (Grade 2, 3m1f)
It's as well to forgive CHANTRY HOUSE his effort in last month's King George. The pacesetters went a breakneck early speed in the Boxing Day Grade 1 and Nico de Boinville's mount was one that never quite got jumping fluently in the pack. The writing was on the wall for him from an early stage and it wasn't a shock when he was pulled up.
He won 4-5 starts last season as a novice chaser, including the Marsh Novices' Chase at the Festival here and an Aintree Grade 1 over this trip. His winning comeback at Sandown in November didn't amount to a lot (beat just one rival) but it's too soon to desert him.
This race doesn't have the same star-quality at last time at Kempton and it's improbable they'll go quite as fast early on. That should allow Chantry House find his rhythm and he can get back on the up in these first-time cheekpieces.
Simply The Betts has a fine record around here, with a pair of chasing wins, and was second on New Year's Day in a Grade 3 handicap. He should stay this trip, but must prove that theory.
Aye Right however may be most likely to take advantage if the selection fails to fire. Third in the Ultima over track and trip last March (rated 154), he won Newcastle's Rehearsal Chase in November when giving weight to a comfortable next-time-out scorer in Good Boy Bobby. He looks sure to give the Henderson horse a hard time.
Selection: Chantry House
Next Best: Aye Right
3.05 - Welsh Marches Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2, 3m)
With Klassical Dream having fluffed his lines in Ireland this week, CHAMP can rubberstamp his position as Stayers' Hurdle favourite by winning this key trial.
Last season was lamentable for Champ, with only two runs and something clearly ailing him in the Gold Cup here. He had been high-class a hurdler in his youth and he made quite an impression last month when taking the Long Walk at Ascot with smart Thyme Hill unable to answer his late change of gear. On that evidence, he should be winning this.
Mcfabulous may be his closest pursuer in the betting but Paul Nicholls' charge is far from certain to get this trip. He ran well in the Relkeel on New Year's Day over shorter and his champion trainer expects improvement.
Lisnagar Oscar is winless since his 2019 Stayers' win at the Festival and Dandy Mag doesn't look up to this.
Paisley Park won this race in 2019 & 2020 but isn't the force of old. Emma Lavelle's charge ran his best race in a while when third behind Champ last time at Ascot, but he's got more than five-lengths to find on that run and it will be a surprise if he does that. He could, though, be second-best today.
Next Best: Paisley Park
3.40 - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m4f)
Balco Coastal is 2-2 over hurdles for Nicky Henderson and the form of last month's Ludlow win has been franked since by the second scoring in good style. The Seven Barrows inmate goes up in trip/class this afternoon and should be a key player.
HILLCREST might prove a tough nut to crack despite having to give him 5lb. Henry Daly's charge is a perfect 3-3 over hurdles himself after bagging a Listed prize over this course and distance on New Year's Day. He made all that day, though he doesn't appear one-dimensional and can probably take a lead if it's given to him.
The Henderson-trained favourite I Am Maximus put down a strong challenge to him up the home straight but, once the jumping was done, Hillcrest asserted to win well. He's not done improving.
The same can be said of Donald McCain's A Different Kind and North Lodge for Alan King so they come into the reckoning too. King's juveniles are always respected and this one saw off two previous winners at Aintree in December on his first start.
He goes up in trip and should stay no issues, though the Barbury Castle handler enters the weekend with just one winner from 47 starters so far in 2022 and that's a worry.
Next Best: Balco Coastal
4.15 - Alan Swinbank Mares' Standard Open NH Flat Race (Listed, 2m1f)
A classy bumper to round off the afternoon. Willie Mullins sends over Nos Na Gaoithe and the trainer took this in 2020. His performers in this sphere excel like few others.
Last-time out winners Hidden Beauty, Mistral Nell and Notnowlinda are capable of progressing, while Nell's Bells was very impressive in scoring last month at Carlisle on soft ground.
FAIRY GEM obliged for Harry Fry at Plumpton in December too and can step up on that. They didn't go a great pace in that race and she did well to come and dive past the winner in the final stride. A tongue-strap goes on now and the first run suggests she'll do well up the hill here off a more generous pace.
Selection: Fairy Gem
Next Best: Nell's Bells