Champion trainer Nicky Henderson can provide punters with a Saturday afternoon boost at Cheltenham when he runs Thomas Campbell in the Listed Regulatory Finance Solutions Handicap Hurdle (15:00).
The five-year-old was stepped up to three miles for the first time last month at Cheltenham and duly responded with a much-improved showing to win.
He is back for more now and, while he has been upped by the handicapper, Henderson has elected to put 7lb claimer James Bowen on board, ensuring much of that extra weight is negated.
There’s also a strong chance of further improvement to come over this trip so, at odds of 2/1, Thomas Campbell is very much the one to side with here for the in-form Seven Barrows team.
In Saturday’s feature race, the BetVictor Gold Cup (14:25), another in-form yard could strike as Ian Williams saddles former festival winner Ballyalton.
The 10-year-old was a winner of a handicap chase over the course and distance at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, but has had his problems since, resulting in just two more outings.
Ballyalton, whose owners include golfer Lee Westwood, has had just six starts over fences and he showed enough at Aintree in a spin over hurdles last month to suggest he retains plenty of ability. He’s going into this race rated just 3lb higher than his festival-winning mark and can go well at odds of 10/1.
In the opening contest at Cheltenham on Saturday, the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (12:40), the Philip Hobbs-trained Gumball is expected to take plenty of beating. He’ll have champion jockey Richard Johnson on board and has looked a potentially smart sort in winning both hurdles starts so far.
Gumball will be a short-price favourite to oblige here but he is expected to demonstrate exactly why he’s ante-post favourite at 11/1 for the Triumph Hurdle itself in March by getting the job done.
Onto Sunday at Cheltenham, and 6/5 favourite Fox Norton will bid for back-to-back wins in the Shloer Chase (14:25).
Colin Tizzard’s charge rarely runs a bad race and the Queen Mother Champion Chase runner-up can reverse that form with Special Tiara to land this pot for the second year running.
In Ireland on Sunday, all eyes will be fixed on Punchestown where former Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen makes his eagerly-anticipated return in the Morgiana Hurdle (14:15).
Faugheen’s only career defeat came in this very race in 2015 and he’ll have to defy an absence of 665 days to avoid a similar fate now. However, the vibes out of the Willie Mullins camp have been positive and he’s unlikely to be undercooked for this.
A winning return against the likes of Vroum Vroum Mag and Jezki may be needed if Faugheen’s ante-post price of 11/2 to regain the Champion Hurdle in March is to be justified.
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