We have already enjoyed plenty of top class National Hunt action this season but for many the Open Meeting at Cheltenham is the highlight of the pre-Christmas fixture list. The three day meeting at Prestbury Park is always highly anticipated each November and that is certainly the case this season with plenty of star names set to take their chance. The meeting is littered with top class racing on each of the three days and as well as offering plenty of Festival clues, there are some top races to enjoy in their own right.
All three days will be covered live by Channel 4 starting on Friday, when there is a strong card to look forward. There are some good handicaps on the card but the Steel Plate and Sections Novices Chase is perhaps the highlight at 2.05pm. All eyes will be on Oscar Whisky in the race as the former top hurdler makes his debut over fences for Nicky Henderson.
The eight-year-old was twice winner of the Aintree Hurdle but will now take on a small, but select field on his chasing bow. The main challenge to Oscar Whisky on Friday is likely to come from Taquin De Seuil who himself is a former classy hurdler. The Jonjo O'Neill in-mate won his chasing debut recently and will lock horns with Oscar whisky on Friday afternoon over 2m4f in what could be a fascinating contest.
Also on Friday afternoon we will get to see the Cross Country course in action for the first time this season. The Glenfarclas Cross country Chase (3.15pm) is always a popular race and it will give punters some great early season Festival clues. The race on Friday features former Festival winners in Balthazar King and Chicago Grey while former Hennessy winner Diamond Harry, will also be of interest for punters here.
The second day of the Open Meeting on Saturday is perhaps the highlight with top class action running right through the card. The feature race will of course be the Paddy Power Gold Cup which continues to be one of the biggest early season races on the calendar. Ante-Post favourite, Dynaste, will miss the race which has left the field looking wide open for the 2m4f contest. One who could run a big race is Champion Court who sets a good standard here for trainer Martin Keighley and connections.
The top weight belongs to Finians Rainbow for trainer Nicky Henderson who is a class act on his best day. He won the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2012 which is top class but he will have the burden of top weight here as he takes on a highly competitive field.
Other races to take in on Saturday include the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial (12.40pm) and the Roy Blandford Cheltenham Novices Chase (1.15pm). The Triumph Hurdle trial features some of the best juveniles in training with Royal Irish Hussar among the best of them for Nicky Henderson. A win for him here will firm up his Cheltenham Festival credentials with the Triumph Hurdle in the spring already looking like a hot renewal.
The Novices Hurdle looks like being another hot renewal on Saturday with African Gold likely to be the star attraction. The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained five-year-old was second in the Albert Bartlett last season and big things are expected of him this season over fences. He is already well fancied in the RSA Chase market and a good performance here will see those claims enhanced.
The Open Meeting goes out with a bang on day three with a brilliant card to look forward to on Sunday afternoon. The Greatwood Hurdle is the highlight of the day with the handicap race over two miles attracting some nice entries. Nicky Henderson has another strong hand here with the classy Cash And Go set to start well backed. He is a nice horse but could face some tough competition from the likes of Flaxen Flare and Sametegal who both currently hold entries.
Elsewhere on Sunday, punters can look forward to the Skybet Supreme Novices Hurdle Trial (1.35pm) where we have a number of good young horses entered up. West Wizard has long been a talking horse over the summer and could well make his seasonal debut here for messrs Henderson and Geraghty.
Paul Nicholls is already building another strong team this winter and he will be hoping that he can win the Racing Post Arkle Novices Chase trial on Sunday with Dodging Bullets. The five-year-old was a classy hurdler and won on his chasing debut at Kempton last month to make his mark over fences. He is entered up on Sunday and few would be surprised if he continued to improve again in what looks likely to be a strong race this weekend.
Open Meeting Race Times and Cards
Day 1 - 15th Nov
1.05pm - Opus Energy Amatuer Riders Handicap Chase 3m110y
1.35pm - Paddy Power Handicap Chase 2m
2.05pm - Steel Plate and Sections Novices Chase 2m4f110y
2.40pm - David Johnson Memorial Handicap Hurdle 2m5f