Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting at the end of October is the perfect teaser for those who crave the jumps, and appetites are catered are again at Prestbury Park with its doors opening in just over a fortnight’s time for the prestigious November meeting.
It is difficult to gauge who will feature prominently among the list of top novice hurdlers this early in the season, but hopes will be high in the Philip Hobbs camp that Thyme Hill could have a major say in the intermediate division after make an impressive winning hurdling debut in the Grade 2 Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow last month.
The 2m5f Grade 2 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on the Friday would appear the natural progression for the five-year-old, who was an excellent third at the track behind Envoi Allen in the Champion Bumper last season. If Hobbs holds an ace in his pack for the campaign, Thyme Hill could feasibly be that.
At the opposite end of the age scale, 11-year-old Josies Orders is another key player who could grace the meeting, with a bid to retain his title in the 3m6f Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase likely to be under consideration.
The Enda Bolger-trained banks specialist also scooped this race in 2015, and there is little evidence to suggest he does not still retain an admirable zest for the game despite his advancing years.
Twice a winner at the Showcase meeting, the Colin Tizzard-trained Slate House clearly has an aptitude for Cheltenham and rates an intriguing contender for the ultra-competitive BetVictor Gold Cup on the Saturday.
He produced a career-best RPR in his 11-length victory over Garo De Juilley over 2m4f here last time and that first-time out performance suggests he could develop into a serious money-spinner for connections this campaign, potentially charting a course through handicaps into graded events.
Al Dancer’s triumph over Getaway Trump in the 2m novice chase here last week could be the key formline in the Grade 2 Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial Novices Chase on the Sunday.
However, the way Getaway Trump travelled into the contest on his comeback before flattening out suggested improvement should be forthcoming as the season progresses and, despite five-and-three-quarter lengths separating the pair at the line, it would be no surprise were the result reversed should they meet at the November meeting.
Star quality could also arrive in the 2m Shloer Chase courtesy of last season’s winner Sceau Royal, who defeated hardy chaser Simply Ned in good style here before seeing the backside of superstar jumper Altior on three occasions. With the Nicky Henderson-trained dual Champion Chase winner pencilled in to step up in trip, Sceau Royal could exploit what may look a potentially weaker division in his absence.