Cheltenham’s exciting new season starts with The Showcase on Friday, October 27 and Saturday, October 28.
The two-day meeting at the Home of Jump Racing boasts increased prize money of £319,000, and Saturday’s programme includes two £50,000 handicap chases sponsored by Randox Health – the opening randoxhealth.com Handicap Chase (2pm) over three miles and a furlong and the Randox Health Handicap Chase (3.10pm) over two miles.
Star chaser Fox Norton started last season with an emphatic 11-length success in the Randox Health Handicap Chase and subsequently finished the head runner-up in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at The Festival before landing G1 contests at Aintree and Punchestown.
JCB Triumph Hurdle victor Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs), who scored four times at Cheltenham last season during an unbeaten campaign, is set to reappear in one of the other highlights of The Showcase, the £35,000 Masterson Holdings Hurdle (2.35pm) for four-year-olds over two miles, also staged on the Saturday.
Bedrock (Dan Skelton) is likely to be in opposition following an eight-length success in a two-mile novices’ hurdle at Bangor on October 4, his second victory of the new campaign after a wide margin triumph at Warwick in May.
The son of Fastnet Rock was pitched in against Defi Du Seuil in the G1 Doom Bar Anniversary 4YO Hurdle at Aintree in April, when he was far from disgraced in third, six lengths behind the winner.
Trainer Dan Skelton is preparing a strong team for The Showcase as he bids to consolidate his lead in the Jump trainers’ championship. Skelton has sent out 75 winners so far this season at a strike rate of 27 per cent.
The Warwickshire handler said: “Bedrock is fine after Bangor and the plan is to take on Defi Du Seuil at Cheltenham in a couple of weeks.
“Bedrock has won two Mickey Mouse novice hurdles since Aintree with no real opposition and certainly nothing of Defi Du Seuil’s standard.
“You would presume the extra experience is a positive, but Defi Du Seuil was the leading juvenile last season and you have got to be respectful.
“We will be getting a bit of weight this time, which we didn’t at Aintree, and we have had a run whereas he hasn’t. There a few positives for our case, but ultimately this is a nice race to go for and should give us a pointer for the rest of the season.
“We will have a nice team for The Showcase, all being well. North Hill Harvey won the Stan James Greatwood last season and will go for a novices’ chase, Two Taffs will go for the two and a half mile novices’ chase, Blairs Cove has won a couple this season will go for a novices’ hurdle, and Stick To The Plan is pencilled in for the three-mile novices’ hurdle.”
Friday’s seven-race programme, starting at 2.00pm, features several non-graded novice contests over both hurdles and fences. Past winners on the day include subsequent G1 scorers The New One and Lac Fontana.
As well as all the action on the track, racegoers will also be able to get behind the scenes of “The Sport of Kings” at The Showcase. There will be guided tours of the Parade Ring and Weighing Room before racing, as well as various activities and displays about the sport.
Tours will take place approximately every half an hour, starting from the Best Mate plaza, once gates have opened, up until half an hour before the first race.