IF you had any doubt that it's time to don the tweed and get another log on the fire, then the return of Cheltenham puts an end to that.
Day 1 of the Showcase Meeting gets underway on Friday, and this time the ITV team are in town too. We take a look at the feature races.
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Race 1 – 1.50 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
The opening heat sees seven novices go to post and surprise surprise the market is headed by a Paul Nicholls hotshot.
Ask For Glory looks the type on paper to progress this season under the care of the Ditcheat team, but he looks skinny here on his comeback.
He managed to win a weak race at Wincanton back in February, but that was a non-event and he still has something to prove – even considering the form of the yard.
He looks a longer-term project and he might just be vulnerable.
Fergal O'Brien always does well at this meeting and his Global Fame has to be one to consider.
He wasn't over-faced last season but showed some smart form and he'll be teed up for this I have no doubt.
But at double the odds it's the race fit Dan Skelton-trained MIDNIGHT RIVER who sits top of the shortlist.
It's a race to watch in my book, but his run at Uttoxeter has gone under the radar and he'll no doubt kick on again over slightly further.
Double figure odds look too big and should be snapped up while they're around.
Does He Know didn't achieve as much on his hurdling debut and is shorter in the betting, while Domaine De L'Isle surely has this in mind as a warm-up for a handicap chase down the line.
SELECTION: Midnight River
Race 2 – 2.25 Matchbook Better Way To Bet Novices' Chase
With last year's jumps season ending early, there will be plenty of novice chases and hurdles with runners in the mix that would not usually be eligible.
A large number will retain their novice statuses longer into the 20/21 campaign and this race is a good example.
Favourite GALVIN has seven runs over fences to his name, with a second at the Festival a standout.
A repeat of that run would probably be good enough to take this now up in trip. His trainer has already signalled the four-miler is the target this year and he needs to run in this to qualify.
But he should be fit after running through the summer and into early October.
Mossy Fen finished a creditable fifth in the Ballymore and was always going to be a staying chaser down the line.
He makes his chasing bow here, but first time out is probably best-watched.
Soldier Of Love has won four on the trot, but his rating of 144 looks inflated on what he achieved during the run.
Irish raider Doctor Duffy looks the biggest threat to the fancy. He's another with buckets of experience and his third in the Kerry National is some of the best form on the table.
Ruth Jefferson sends down Clondaw Caitlin. She was a Grade 2 winner last season and shouldn't be discounted although her day may come later in the season.
Race 3 – 3.00 squareintheair.com Handicap Hurdle
This is a race to keep stakes small and leave any bets late – the market should tell you plenty.
Heaps of unexposed horses take their chance in a maximum field of 20 and there are very few I'd be confident of ruling out.
Captain Tom Cat was of interest until the market cottoned on to his chance. Dr Richard Newland won this with a similar type last season and he has to have a great opportunity on his handicap debut.
A mark of 121 shouldn't be beyond him just yet and capable claimer Cillin Leonard takes off seven.
He opened up a double-figure price but is favourite in most books now. I wouldn't put anyone off backing him but he wouldn't be for me at the prices in such a race.
OUR POWER would just get the nod for the Twiston-Davies outfit. He ended last season in great form and why he has to carry plenty of weight, should still be on an upward curve.
His Kempton third was rock-solid form and he built on that with a good win next time out.
Fitness shouldn't be a concern given the yard he hails from but give the market a check before you put any money down.
At slightly bigger odds Ian Jardine's Weather Front is also on the shortlist.
Again, he's more exposed than some, but ran a career best last time out and stays over that trip. He has a fitness edge on a good few too.
The Nicky Henderson pair of Fix Sun and Hijack have obvious claims but look short enough.
TENTATIVE NOD: Our Power
Race 4 – 3.35 Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase
On The Slopes will likely be a popular bet in this race, and there can be no doubting he looks a well-handicapped horse.
But he was beat on his return last year and I'd have that in the back of my mind before going in here.
Trainer Harry Whittington took this last season with subsequent Ryanair runner-up Saint Calvados and his Simply The Betts goes in the same colours.
He has the class to take out a race like this and the team have started well. He's high on the shortlist.
Dolos should get his ground and he shouldn't be ruled out off top weight. Paul Nicholls will have him ready and he has gone well fresh on most starts.
But I will likely chance Neil Mulholland's SCARDURA who has progressed steadily of late and still looks ahead of the handicapper.
This is a big step up from a Class 3 at Newton Abbott, but his trainer looks to have found him a good spot and he might just catch one or two a bit cold on their comebacks.
He jumped a bit right last time out and he can't repeat that here but looks a bet to me at current odds.
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