The two day International Meeting at Cheltenham is always a key fixture during the season and we can look forward to some great action at Prestbury Park this weekend. Christmas is now less than two weeks away but there will be no rest for the National Hunt Fraternity, with the big races continuing to come thick and fast. That starts with the International meeting this weekend and as you would expect, there will be plenty of Festival clues to be dug-up during the process.
The action at Cheltenham kicks-off on Friday afternoon with what could be a cracking Ryman Cheltenham Business Club Novices Chase. The 2m5f affair has only attracted five entries but it is a quality field, with two runners in particular under the microscope. Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson will be going head-to-head in the race with Wonderful Charm taking on Oscar Whisky in what could be a fascinating contest.
Wonderful Charm has already picked up three novice chase wins this season while Oscar Whisky is a class act and will be getting plenty of weight in his favour. Oscar Whisky lost out to Taquin Du Seuil at the Open meeting last month after a farcical gallop and you would have to give him a great chance here in a truer run affair.
The Cross Country Chase at 2.40pm on Friday will be another cracking affair with a number of potential Festival horses taking their chances. Chicago Grey is a former Festival winner and will have top weight, while the Enda Bolger trainer Keep On Track should be respected given the record of the trainer in this sphere.
The Ian Williams trained Ballyalton has been an impressive winner of two novice hurdles this season and he will be well fancied for the lucky last on Friday afternoon. A good run here will cement his place in the Supreme Novices Hurdle betting but he does have to take on Doc Harper and Garde La Victoire, who are both also highly regarded.
If the Friday card is the appetizer then there is no doubt that the main course at Cheltenham will come on Saturday afternoon. The stars will be out at Prestbury Park starting with the highly thought of Kentucky Hyden, who will be out to enhance his Triumph Hurdle claims in the Juvenile Hurdle Trial for Nicky Henderson at 12.10pm.
The Stewart Family December Gold Cup is one of the most competitive handicaps of the season and as you would expect, there is a top field engaged for the race. Jonjo O'Neill has entered Johns Spirit for the race after his Paddy Power Gold Cup win from last month with 'Handicap Gold Cup Double' firmly on the cards. It won't be easy for him though against the likes of Colour Squadron and Salut Flo who both look set for a big run on Saturday.
The ante-post Champion Hurdle market is one of the most interesting of all this season but that picture could become a little clearer after the International Hurdle on Saturday afternoon. All eyes will be on the highly rated The New One who will be making his second start of the season for Nigel Twiston-Davies. The Neptune winner from last season won at Kempton against Rock On Ruby back in October, but this could well be a tougher test against the rock solid Zarkandar. The International Hurdle was won by Zarkandar 12 months ago and his duel with The New One is sure to see the Champion Hurdle market shaken-up, whoever comes out on top.
The final race of the International Meeting is a fascinating one with the Relkeel Hurdle over 2m4f taking place. Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh will be over from Ireland to run Glens Melody which tells us plenty about highly they rate the horse. Gemix has made the trip over from France for the contest and is a class act, while the same can be said of Ptit Zig who won last time out for Paul Nicholls and could also take his chance.
Willie Mullins will also be looking for more success back in Ireland on Sunday afternoon. The Navan Novice Hurdle is the highlight of the day over 2m4f at Grade 1 level and as normal, Mullins has a very strong hand currently engaged for the race. He has both Briar Hill, the Champion Bumper winner, and Moyle Park entered up for what could be a fascinating contest. It is possible that only one of the two will run at Navan but either way they will be well fancied at Navan as the road to Cheltenham continues on its merry way.
International Meeting Day 1 Card - 13th Dec
12.30pm - Ryman Cheltenham Business Club Novices Chase