My first National Hunt Preview of the season is here and it comes from the home of it all which is, of course, Cheltenham as the Showcase Meeting takes centre stage this Friday. The first race of the afternoon is at 2:00 and is the Ballymore Novices Hurdle over two miles and five furlongs and I’ve sided with CHAMPAGNE WELL here for Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan. He was last seen when finishing sixth behind Champ in Grade 1 company at Aintree which is the form of the race by far, and he should also have no issue with the ground.
Next up is the 2:35 which is a Class 2 Novices’ Chase over two miles and this race can go to the smart hurdler AL DANCER for Nigel & Sam Twiston-Davies. He won four on the bounce last season including the Betfair Hurdle and looks a classy recruit to the chasing sphere. He’ll have to be at the top of his game though here as Getaway Trump is a very capable rival in his own right and will serve it up to the market leader.
The third race on the card is the 3:10 and is a Class 3 Handicap Hurdle which is a very competitive affair, of which I’ve taken a tentative chance on DUKE STREET for Dr Richad Newland. He won following a long lay off the last day and arrives here off what still looks a very manageable mark. He could well get involved again here with Cillin Leonard on board.
Moving onto the 3:45 which is another Class 2 Novices’ Chase, however this time due to be ridden over three miles. I think this race can go to the market leader WHOLESTONE for Daryl Jacob and Nigel Twiston-Davies who got off the mark over fences last time in a match race when heavily odds on. He was a smart stayer over hurdles and particularly found his form around here over the years. If transferring that course form and ability over the larger obstacles he’s an obvious player. Gordon Elliot’s Dinions looks the chief threat who’s also a course and distance winner and is set to be ridden by Davy Russell.
The final race I’m going to be looking at Cheltenham on Friday is the 4:20 which is a Class 3 Maiden Hurdle. Fred looks to be the one most of interest, a French recruit for Nicky Henderson who heads affairs for his new top connections, and he could well be another top performer for Seven Barrows. I’ve taken him on though and done that with MASTER DEBONAIR for Colin Tizzard and Robbie Power. He was a smart bumper horse who won around here in November and was last seen when finishing fifth behind McFabulous in an Aintree Grade 2. For me that’s very solid form and partner that with his course form I make him a big player here.