Shantou Village and The Young Master give Neil Mulholland a strong hand in the opening race at Cheltenham on Saturday.
A fiercely-competitive field has been assembled for the three-mile-one-furlong ‘Matchbook Betting Exchange’ Handicap Chase – and Somerset-based Mulholland fires a twin assault.
Shantou Village – a winner of a novice chase at this meeting three years ago – was last seen unseating Robbie Power at the final fence when looking a major contender for the Kerry National at Listowel last month.
The Young Master is a dual winner at Cheltenham – and having rounded off last season with placed efforts in the Kim Muir at the Festival and in the bet365 Gold Cup, the 10-year-old blew away any cobwebs with a run on the Flat at Kempton three and a half weeks ago.
“Both horses are in good order and we’re looking forward to running them,” said Mulholland.
“Shantou Village ran a blinder in the Kerry National and was obviously a bit unlucky – I think he’d have taken a fair bit of beating. I’ve been very happy with him since.
“The Young Master had a run on the Flat and has hopefully come on for the run. He schooled on Friday morning and jumped brilliantly.”
Other hopefuls include the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Cogry – winner of this race two years ago – and Dan Skelton’s trio of Cobra De Mai, Captain Chaos and Get On The Yager.
Seven four-years-olds are set to go to post for the following Masterson Holdings Hurdle.
John McConnell was successful 12 months ago with Pearl Of The West and is this year represented by Construct, who is unbeaten in two starts over jumps following low-key wins at Downpatrick and Sligo.
McConnell said: “He’s a good horse and we’ve been looking forward to running him, but I am a bit worried about the ground.
“We’ll probably let him take his chance unless it got very soft, but it would just temper our enthusiasm. We’ll play it by ear.”
There are two other Irish challengers in Henry de Bromhead’s Havingagoodtime and Peter Fahey’s dual winner Soviet Pimpernel.
Fahey said of the latter: “He’s done nothing wrong and he’s a progressive horse. I just hope they don’t get too much rain.
“It’s a competitive race, but hopefully he’ll give a good account of himself and put his best foot forward.”
The home team includes the Paul Nicholls-trained Quel Destin and Torpillo from the Twiston-Davies yard.
Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados heads an 11-strong field for the Randox Health Handicap Chase.
A high-class novice two seasons ago, the six-year-old kicked off last term with a Grade Three win in Ireland, before struggling to land a blow in three successive Grade One events. He has had a wind operation since his latest outing in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Whittington said: “We’re very much looking forward to getting him going again – he’s in good form.
“We have to start somewhere and fingers crossed the forecast goes in our favour and we get a bit of soft ground.”
Mcgroarty bids for his fourth successive win for Dr Richard Newland in the two-mile contest, while Paul Henderson’s Doitforthevillage is out to secure a second course and distance success.
McConnell’s Go Another One takes on Secret Investor and First Assignment, among others, in the Matchbook Best Value Betting Exchange Novices’ Chase.
The Stowaway gelding looked an exciting recruit to the chasing ranks after wins at Clonmel and Worcester, but suffered a short-priced defeat on his latest outing at Uttoxeter.
McConnell said: “I think I probably ran him back too quick in Uttoxeter after running on firm ground the time before, that is what Richard (Johnson) felt.
“We’ve been happy with him since. Again the ground would be a worry, but I suppose running over two and a half rather than three miles might compensate for that to some extent.
“It’s a hot race with some top trainers running some highly-rated horses in it. If he could run well it would bode well for the future.”
Elsewhere on the card, Debra Hamer’s stable star Tobefair bids to give weight and a beating to 12 rivals in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle, while The Butcher Said bids for a fifth straight win in the Randox Health Novices’ Hurdle for the in-form Olly Murphy.