Cheltenham racecourse opens its doors for the first time in the new National Hunt season on Friday, with last year’s beaten Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Al Dancer one of the many stars on show.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Betfair Hurdle winner goes over fences for the first time in the squareintheair.com Novices’ Chase, against three smart rivals.
Al Dancer progressed rapidly last season and justified strong market support in the rearranged Betfair Hurdle at Ascot, but failed to run up to form at the Festival when only 10th.
“Al Dancer is in good form,” said Twiston-Davies.
“We were originally going to go to Newton Abbot with him before their meeting was abandoned, but we have been happy with his preparation.
“We are looking forward to getting him started over fences and he has schooled well.”
Taking him on are Paul Nicholls’ Getaway Trump, the Nicky Richards-trained Caius Marcius – a four-time winner over fences already – and Dan Skelton’s Not That Fuisse.
Another interesting novice event on the cards is the Matchbook Most Trusted Betting Exchange Novices’ Chase, which sees Twiston-Davies’ Wholestone continue his education.
A very smart staying hurdler, he beat a sole rival on his chasing debut up at Perth.
Anthony Bromley, racing manager for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, said: “Wholestone has the benefit of run at Perth, which was good.
“He has been delayed in going chasing because of what he was doing over hurdles, but there are some good races to be won as a novice chaser and we will have a go.”
Opposition to Wholestone includes Gordon Elliott’s Dinons, Kim Bailey’s Minella Warrior and the Fergal O’Brien-trained Aye Aye Charlie.
There is plenty of Irish interest on the card, with Elliott also running Braid Blue in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, in which Charles Byrnes saddles Doctor Duffy, a winner at Navan recently.
Byrnes said: “Doctor Duffy is very consistent and does not know how to run a bad race.
“He likes good ground and a galloping track suits him well. He is a nice horse to have.
Skelton will be well represented over the two days, with Getariver of particular interest in the Foundation Developments Ltd Maiden Hurdle, having won a point-to-point and two bumpers.
“She is a horse we like. She won both her bumpers and is obviously very smart,” said Skelton.
“We are looking forward to getting her started over hurdles.”
She will come up against Fred, a French import for Nicky Henderson owned by Munir and Souede.
“Fred is a promising horse. He will be one of the first what you might call winter horses running from Seven Barrows and it will be nice to get him out,” said Bromley.
“He was making a noise at the end of last season, so we have done his wind. He is a lovely horse, and we schooled him last year. He is probably one of our brightest novices coming through.”
Colin Tizzard runs Master Debonair in the same race, with the five-year-old having had a wind op since running in the bumper at Aintree’s Grand National meeting.
“He was making a noise at the end of last season, so we have done his wind. He is a lovely horse, and we schooled him last year. He is probably one of our brightest novices coming through,” said Tizzard.