This weekend’s two-day Cheltenham meeting will provide plenty of clues for the rest of the season, with a whole host of interesting runners at Prestbury Park.
Several trainers run horses who won at last month’s November meeting, and ones who disappointed, including exciting novice chaser My Drogo for the Dan Skelton team.
We take a look at five horses who could be worth a closer look this weekend and for the rest of the campaign.
Jpr One – Colin Tizzard (Friday 12:05)
Colin Tizzard’s yard has enjoyed a resurgent start to the season, with a string of big-race wins from Fiddlerontheroof, Eldorado Allen and Lostintranslation.
They might have unearthed another Grade One winner in waiting with Jpr One, who could hardly have been more impressive when beating Grade Two-placed Luttrell Lad and highly-touted I Am Maximus from the Nicky Henderson yard at Exeter.
Luttrell Lad is rated 135 which gives you an idea of the level of the form, with Jpr One looking like he would improve for the experience.
He faces a couple of other exciting novice hurdlers in Hartur D’Oudairies and Washington, but could well take the step up in grade in his stride this weekend.
Sporting John – Philip Hobbs (Friday 3:35)
Could Sporting John be a genuine Stayers Hurdle contender?
We will find out more this weekend when he returns to Cheltenham in a competitive handicap hurdle off top weight, when he takes on some interesting unexposed rivals.
He powered home at the same track last time out and has been raised five pounds for that run, but there’s every chance he has the ability to do the job again on Friday for the in-form Philip Hobbs yard.
The six-year-old has always been highly touted and if he wins on Friday, they would surely be looking at stepping him into graded company.
My Drogo – Dan Skelton (Saturday 12:40)
A Grade One winner over hurdles, My Drogo was set to make a smooth transition to fences on chase debut when disaster struck for the Skelton team in remarkable fashion.
Both My Drogo and his sole rival Gin On Lime made mistakes at the tricky second-last fence, with My Drogo unseating Harry Skelton and Rachael Blackmore performing a miraculous sit to stay onboard Gin On Lime before sauntering to victory.
The performance itself was impressive until that point by My Drogo, but the Skelton team will be desperate for the six-year-old to get in a clear round before taking the step into deeper waters in the New Year.
Midnight Shadow – Sue Smith (Saturday 1:50)
This season’s Paddy Power Gold Cup winner looks to go back to back in the Racing Post Gold Cup on Saturday, and may have been given a chance by the handicapper.
The eight-year-old was raised seven pounds for a narrow success over Protektorat, who gave the form a major boost on Saturday when bolting up in the Many Clouds Chase.
He hit the final fence and idled up the straight when winning last month, so the true margin of victory is probably further than the final winning distance.
Trainer Sue Smith had targeted the King George but instead opts for this which is surely a positive for his Saturday prospects.
Blazing Khal – Charles Byrnes (Saturday 3:00)
Charles Byrnes is never afraid to send a good horse across the Irish Sea, and bids to complete a second successful Cheltenham raid this weekend.
Blazing Khal won a decent Galway novice hurdle first time out, before taking the Grade Two Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
He stayed on very strongly in that race and now steps up in trip to three miles, which looks perfect for the five-year-old.
Gelino Bello again is in opposition for the Paul Nicholls team, but Byrnes will surely be confident that he can confirm placings with that rival, despite giving weight away on this occasion.