Defi Du Seuil bids to continue his renaissance when he takes on four smart rivals in the Betbright Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.
Things did not go right for the former unbeaten champion juvenile hurdler last term – but he got back on track on his second start over fences when getting off the mark in good style at Exeter.
The Philip Hobbs-trained gelding has to give 3lb to the opposition, but connections were buoyed his return to form.
“It’s a competitive-looking race. He came out of his last race very well and Philip is very happy with him,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.
“We’re hoping for a good run. He’s got his jumping together quite well and hopefully he puts in a good round and we’ll see what happens.”
The five-year-old will be ridden by Barry Geraghty, who said in his blog for At The Races: “On paper, this could well be the best novice chase run in England so far this season and Defi has to give 3lb away to all his rivals, but I think he has a good chance.
“His win at Exeter last time was a real step in the right direction. It was a graded novice chase in all but name and he won it well. His jumping improved from his chasing debut at Cheltenham and I thought it got better as the race progressed.
“While it could be argued that Topofthegame couldn’t show his very best that day after losing ground at the start prior to finishing second, it was encouraging to see him boost the form by finishing a close second in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton last week.”
He added: “We felt Defi still needed a bit more practice after Exeter, so we went back there after the last meeting there and I schooled him over fences. He was very good there and hopefully that extra bit of practice will show at Cheltenham.”
Black Op was third behind Defi Du Seuil at Exeter, although his trainer Tom George believes his horse has benefited greatly for his first run over fences and is looking forward to seeing him back in action.
“He’s in good form and the ground should suit him,” said the Slad handler.
“He’s come on a lot for his run at Exeter. He’s done plenty of schooling since then, he’s ready to go and take the next step in his chasing career.
“It’s a nice race, but he’s a nice horse. You can make a case for any of them, really.”
On The Blind Side is the only one of the five runners yet to run over fences, and his trainer Nicky Henderson is keen to get the dual Grade Two scorer started.
“He jumps well at home, but has just taken his time to come to hand this season,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“I am looking forward to running him – I don’t like throwing them in there against horses like Defi Du Seuil and Black Op, but we have got to get on with him.
“There was Haydock in heavy ground, but it was no thanks and Lingfield in heavy ground was no thanks as well. The distance is right and the ground is right.
“It is just about getting the run into him. This is all about clear rounds. Two and a half miles is perfect for him. We thought about going up to three, but I don’t think he wanted it.”
Colin Tizzard sends Lostintranslation into the fray after being placed behind the classy mare La Bague Au Roi on both his starts over the bigger obstacles.
The quintet is completed by Dan Skelton’s Crucial Role, who opened his fencing account at Uttoxeter three weeks ago.