The 3 things you need to know as Cheltenham brings in 2016

We see in the New Year in the traditional manner with a visit to Prestbury Park as Cheltenham hosts its annual January 1 fixture.

The Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase and Relkeel Hurdle are undoubtedly the highlights in Gloucestershire, and could produce a couple of exciting finishes.

They aren’t the only races shown live on Channel 4 though, with a handful of contests from Cheltenham boosted by a pair of Musselburgh contests on terrestrial television.

What that means is there is ample opportunity to take advantage of Ladbrokes’ Money Back Offer to cover you for those near misses.*

Need help finding those winners? We’ve found these three nuggets to stand you in good stead ahead of the action.

Look out for penalty-carrying course specialist in the Dipper

Calgary Bay in 2009 was the only winner of the Dipper Novices’ Chase (13:20) in the last decade that wasn’t carrying a penalty for winning a Class 3 chase or better.

That suggests that it’s worth siding with something that has taken in a decent contest before this Grade 2 race.

Four of the seven-strong field have to give weight to the trio of Minella Rocco, Aubusson and Volnay De Thaix, but looking at another trend could yet narrow the field down further.

Of the 16 horses to make the frame in the last 10 years, just two hadn’t previously placed at Cheltenham.

Those two patterns look to give Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Blaklion a huge chance of success here as the only course winner lumbered with a penalty.

The heavy ground will be of no problem for the six-year-old and with form over further, staying on up the hill in the testing conditions should be no problem whatsoever.

Mudlark Tenor gets his ground again

Looking through Tenor Nivernais’ form it’s pretty clear what sort of underfoot conditions he relishes in.

Venetia Williams’ charge has only been asked to race on ground better than soft once in a 15-race chasing career, and it’s clearly been for the best.

In his career the eight-year-old’s form on Good-to-soft ground or better reads 37P80P99, while his last eight on easier conditions looks a much more respectable 15446413.

The Grade 3 handicap that he partakes in looks a strong renewal and he comes into this off the back of an easy win at Ascot before finishing third in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.

He comes into this race on seven pound better terms with the winner that day Village Vic for a five-and-a-half length beating, and with the ground looking bottomless, a big run is expected.

Proud Relkeel record for Henderson needs respecting

With three wins and two runners-up from his seven runners in the Relkeel Hurdle, it’s safe to say Nicky Henderson doesn’t send bad horses to the Grade 2 contest.

The Seven Barrows trainer sends out three this year, including Whisper, who runs in the same colours of dual winner of the race Oscar Whisky.

The Aintree Hurdle winner was bitterly disappointing at Newbury on Hennessy, finishing a tailed off five of five, but it’s probably fair to put a line through that run.

With an outing under his belt, the eight-year-old can be expected to put a bold showing at Prestbury Park, a course that he took the Coral Cup in 2014.

The market is likely to be headed by Triumph Hurdle runner up Top Notch who comes here on the back of two second-place finishes this season including in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

He has stamina to prove, but it does look as if this step up in trip could yet bring out more from the five-year-old.

But the most intriguing runner from Henderson could be former Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth.

The 11-year-old enjoyed a switch to hurdles and a drop in trip when taking an Aintree contest in November and might just outrun his odds.

Barry Geraghty’s mount ran well enough in sixth in the Hennessy Gold Cup, but can be expected to improve with a return to Cheltenham.

The hill has brought out the best of the gelding in the past, with five wins at the venue to his name, three of those in Grade 1s.

He will need to see off some of the top staying hurdlers in training, but with this season about one of comebacks, it’s hard to rule out the son of Bob Back taking a Graded prize for the first time in over two years.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.