The road to the Cheltenham Festival almost starts here at the Cheltenham Open meeting, with day one of three potentially providing many clues for the season ahead.
The biggest of these may well come in the Steel Plate and Sections Novices’ Chase, won by Grands Crus and Dynaste in the last two years, and featuring Oscar Whisky this time on his first career chase start, en route to a probable Festival crack at the Arkle Chase.
The return to 2m is sure to suit Renard and although his profile is not the most progressive in the field, a lot is in his favour here. He is a worthy favourite.
Venetia Williams’ other runner Elenika could improve though and is one to consider each-way, alongside Anay Turge, who is sure to be staying on better than most up the famous Cheltenham hill and is 5lb better off, than for a defeat of less than four lengths, to the fancied Eastlake last time.
Hurdles form doesn’t always translate to the chasing ranks, but given that Oscar Whisky was at least 17lb better than this opposition over the smaller obstacles and receives 5lb here from chief rival Taquin Du Seuil, there is a feeling that if he stays on his feet, he will win.
The good ground may also not be soft enough for Taquin De Seuil and so forecast backers may find some value in taking The Romford Pele to come second, who was second on his chase debut behind the useful Balder Succes in a race that set a new course record at Chepstow.
Top Gamble seems to have a decent future and is an understandable favourite after victories on his last two starts. But with many of these capable of stepping up on previous efforts, he is passed on, given he has only previously raced on heavy ground.
Paul Nicholls’ horses are not available too often at double-figure prices and Atlantic Roller could be one for the each-way thieves at 10/1, if he can run close to his best after a year off.
However, although up in class, Killala Quay looks an exciting prospect after running away from the opposition after the final hurdle on his last two starts and he may be up to completing his hat-trick.
In a way this Cross Country contest revolves around Diamond Harry, who had his first try at the discipline in France last time and ran encouragingly, after being held up too far back and ending up with too much to do.
There is no doubting that this mark of 137 is very lenient should he take to the demands and he is certainly worthy of each-way consideration, especially as he seems to relish this time of the year with three wins from four November starts in previous seasons.
Should things not go well, Balthazar King is the clear one to beat as he has been one of the superstars of the discipline in this sphere in the last year and hasn’t been out of the first two in his last four Cheltenham starts.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
Fancy a flutter? Sign up today to claim three £10 free bets when you bet £10.