Most National Hunt racing fans will already have one eye on the Cheltenham Festival in March, but the course hosts numerous big meetings throughout the season.
The first of these is the upcoming Showcase Festival, taking place this Friday and Saturday, where some early-season clues may be available for more high-profile races later in the campaign.
Here are three horses it may pay to keep tabs on, with future races in mind.
Shantou Village was sent off favourite for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the last Cheltenham Festival, but looked a debatable stayer and was pulled up late on after being struck on his left hind leg.
Previously, he had looked a capable top-class performer when winning Cheltenham’s November Neptune trial and then finishing a worthy second to Yanworth in another during January.
He looked to be well over his injury when recently making his chasing debut at Fontwell, winning by 34 lengths despite making a fairly substantial blunder at the last.
Shantou Village is the highest rated among the entries for the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Novices’ Chase on Saturday and should take another step towards being a prominent contender in one of the novice chases at March’s Cheltenham Festival. He is 25/1 in the ante-post RSA Chase betting.
Don’t be surprised if this is his last run for a while either, as Neil Mulholland’s six-year-old is at his best on better ground.
The Young Master
The Young Master ended last season impressively, taking third in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and then following up with victory in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown.
The latter, over 3m4f, suggested that a tilt at the 2017 Grand National would be a realistic aim, for which he can be backed at 33/1 at this stage of the season.
He opens his campaign in the Randox Handicap Chase on Saturday, which was a race won by Balthazar King en route to finishing second at Aintree behind Pineau De Re in 2013.
The Young Master’s highest winning mark previously is 148, so running off 150 this weekend isn’t ideal, especially as victory will surely be a detriment to his National chances because of the likeliness of it causing another rise in his rating.
Given he was sent off at 10/1 to win a Hennessey Gold Cup off 150 last year, a victory is not out of the question, but connections would probably be content to clear some summer cobwebs and finish in the midfield to avoid any further rating hikes.
Adrien Du Pont
In terms of promising prospects from within the Paul Nicholls camp, few excite more than Adrien Du Pont following a pair of dominant 2m hurdle displays in the latter half of last season.
Having won the Grade 1 Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow, he returned to take a solid handicap hurdle at Ascot off top weight.
It is expected that he will be dining at the top table in the sprint hurdling division this term, even if a tilt at the Champion Hurdle at this stage may be a tad optimistic.
Even so, a strong start in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle on Saturday is expected against a few of those to finish down the field in the Triumph Hurdle at the last Festival.
It has been touted that Nicholls may send Adrien Du Pont to France for the Prix Renaud du Vivier in November, which is a contest previous won by the likes of Ptit Zig. A success at Cheltenham may make this a definite.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing