Champion Chase runner-up Politologue heads a select field of four in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham on Sunday.
Paul Nicholls’ grey has won first time out in three of his four seasons in Britain and signed off last term with second places at both Cheltenham and Aintree.
Politologue will be up against Saint Calvados, who was rerouted from the BetVictor Gold Cup, race regular Simply Ned representing Nicky Richards and Philip Hobbs’ leading novice from last season, Defi Du Seuil.
“I love Politologue, we’ve had some good days together,” said his jockey Harry Cobden.
“Defi Du Seuil looks an obvious danger stepping out of novice company and I wouldn’t write off the other two, either, so it looks a good race.
“Hopefully they go a nice gallop, but he must have a good chance as he acts well around Cheltenham. I’m really looking forward to him.”
He added: “I think he’s one of those versatile horses who is as good over a variety of trips – I certainly wouldn’t be worried over two and a half miles, I think he stays it well. He’s very good over both trips.”
Richards is expecting another bold display from his veteran Simply Ned, who has been second in the race three times.
“I know there’s only four, but it’s a good, strong race and Politologue is proven at the top level,” said Richards.
“Defi Du Seuil is stepping out of novice company, but he’s in with the big boys now. The old lad is in good form and I’m sure he’ll run another good race.
“It will be Ireland after this – it’s sort of set in stone, as long as we’re happy with him.
“He’s not showing any signs of his age yet, he doesn’t act like a 12-year-old and he’s bouncing.
“We’ve never over-raced him, the races are there for him and after the end of January his form tails off anyway, so there’s no point running him if he’s not right.
“If we get three or four cracking runs a year, it’s great.”
There are also four in the Grade Two Racing Post-sponsored Arkle Trial, in which Cobden rides Getaway Trump for Nicholls.
He has high hopes of turning the tables on Al Dancer, who beat him at Cheltenham’s first meeting of the season.
“He shaped really well against Al Dancer and should improve for the run. I was really impressed with how he went through the race, he jumped fantastic and travelled really well,” said Cobden.
“Turning in I was thinking, ‘how far’, but when we jumped the second-last Al Dancer was obviously that bit straighter than us and stayed on up the run-in.
“All being well, he’s come on from that run, Al Dancer has a (3lb) penalty and I’m sure he won’t be too far away. I’d say the Arkle will be his main target because I was so impressed with how he went round there first time, it was almost effortless.
“It was fairly soft the last day, he’s got loads of speed so better ground does suit, but I don’t think he’s ground dependent.”
Harry Whittington runs Rouge Vif, while Henry de Bromhead sends Put The Kettle On from Ireland.
Another classy race on the card is the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle, in which Jamie Snowden’s Pacify aims to remain unbeaten over timber in his sixth race.
Not only is he grabbing the headlines for his winning exploits, Pacify is also owned by the Duchess of Cornwall in partnership with Arsenal chairman Sir Chips Keswick.
“Pacify is in good form. It was a lovely performance at Kempton and he has come out of it very well,” said the in-form Snowden.
“He was obviously a very smart Flat horse, but we have been delighted with his transition to hurdles.
“We are going up into Graded company at Cheltenham, but he has done everything we have asked of him so far, and we are looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”
Nicholls’ Ecco actually has a higher rating, despite only winning twice, and Cobden has high hopes.
“He’s a lovely, big horse. He’s already won at Wincanton and was entitled to then go and win at Ascot,” said Cobden.
“He goes through his races nicely, settles well and jumps great. Hopefully he’ll produce a decent run. I really like him and he’s definitely going places.
“They did a great job last year keeping him as a novice. He came to us quite late as a big, strong colt, but was gelded and went weak on us. He’s done really well over the summer. He’s been looked after and now we’re reaping the rewards.”