The waiting is over for National Hunt fans as the traditional curtain-raiser for the season at Chepstow takes place on Friday, with the Unibet Persian War Novices’ Hurdle highlighting the first of two days.
Fergal O’Brien runs both Champagne Well and Paint The Dream in the Grade Two, and yet despite the former being a much shorter price, the trainer feels there is little between them.
“I wouldn’t want to split them, to be fair,” said O’Brien.
“Paint The Dream did nothing wrong last year and ended up winning on his last run. He’s only a novice and will go chasing after this, but he’s there on his merit. If we didn’t think he was good enough he’d be in an ordinary novice.
“He’s had a great summer at home with his owner, so I wouldn’t want to split them.
“Champagne Well did very well last year and is very solid, but what I will say is Paint The Dream has had a great summer and looks fantastic, so I’m looking forward to seeing the pair of them.”
Rebecca Curtis is represented by Ruthless Article, who has enjoyed a fruitful summer and has a rating of 140 to boot.
“I think he’s got a ridiculous rating really, they tend to get overrated in the summer, I don’t think he’s a 140 horse,” she said.
“He’s difficult to place as he’d have three penalties in a normal novice and he’d struggle off 140 in a handicap.
“He’ll have a spin round and then have a break before coming back out next summer. He’s earned a crack at this.”
The Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill, who was third in the Cheltenham Bumper, Paul Nicholls’ Trevelyn’s Corn and Alan King’s Harambe are among the fancied runners.
Nicholls told Sky Sports Racing: “It’s a competitive race on paper, but he had a breathing operation in the summer and we’ve always had this race as a target, because he’s only a novice until November 1.
“He’s fit and well and should run well.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies is equally hopeful for his French import Echiquier, who made a winning start for the Naunton trainer at Hexham last week.
He said: “We don’t know (how good he could be), you learnt nothing from that race. He had a canter round and it got him fit.
“It’s all hope, isn’t it? We’re hoping we’ve got a superstar, but time will tell.”
In the Dunraven Windows Novices’ Chase Curtis runs Lisnagar Oscar, well fancied for the Albert Bartlett last year after winning a Grade Two at Haydock.
“Three miles at Chepstow can take some getting, especially first time out, but he did stay it well over hurdles,” said Curtis.
“I think he’ll come on a good bit for the experience, but he can operate as good as any of his rivals so I’m hoping for a good run.
“He’s not the biggest, but he’s a clever little jumper. I’m hoping he’ll make a chaser, but we’ll find out on Friday.”
O’Brien’s De Name Evades Me was ultra-consistent over hurdles and is another making his chasing bow.
“He never disappointed us last year and hasn’t been out of the first four since we’ve had him,” said O’Brien.
“He was second at Cheltenham (to Aux Ptits Soins) on soft ground, which we didn’t think he’d like, and is just a real solid horse. I’m looking forward to seeing him over fences.
“He’ll enjoy the trip and hopefully it’s something to build on.”
The Professor Caroline Tisdall Supports Heroic Jumpers Veterans’ Handicap Chase sees some old favourites such as Regal Encore and The Young Master line up.
Curtis runs 2018 Scottish National hero Joe Farrell, who was fancied for the Grand National itself last season but found it coming too soon after injury.
“He seems in really good form. Last year he had an injury at this stage of the season, but he’s fine now,” said Curtis.
“He ran a great race at Newbury, but those staying chasers need time between their races and we were so pushed for time getting him ready for the National that he probably didn’t have enough time between his races.
“Hopefully this season will work out better for him.
O’Brien runs Perfect Candidate, who has Cheltenham’s October and November meetings in his sights.
“It will be a nice starting point for him, he’s starting off here to tee him up to go to Cheltenham in a couple of weeks,” said O’Brien.