The two-day Showcase Meeting at Cheltenham on Friday and Saturday will be a starting point in the campaigns of many of the runners.
But don’t be mistaken in thinking that the early skirmishes at Prestbury Park will count for little as the season unfolds.
In the past decade there have been 14 horses who ran at the meeting before going on to triumph at the Festival in March.
So the averages suggest that at least one runner in action on either Friday or Saturday will return to win at the biggest meeting of the year.
One race you must keep in mind is the Grand Annual Chase. Since 2009, five winners of that race had previously run at the October meeting – Oh Crick (2009), Pigeon Island (2010), Oiseau De Nuit (2011), Rock The World (2017) and Le Prezien (2018).
And don’t rule out seeing a future Gold Cup winner in action. Imperial Commander, winner of chasing’s blue riband in 2009, made a winning debut at the Showcase meeting in 2006 and also won there 12 months later.
Below are a quintet who used ran in the Cotswolds in October on their way to Festival glory.
October 2010: won the 3m novices’ chase at 13-2
March 2011: won the National Hunt Chase at 5-1
Gordon Elliott’s stayer had an 8lb penalty to shoulder at the Showcase Meeting but it did not stop him staying on stoutly to beat the Paul Nicholls-trained Picture This, the 6-5 favourite under Ruby Walsh, by six lengths.
He showed that day stamina was his strong suit and six months later was sent off favourite for the National Hunt Chase under Derek O’Connor. The combination bided their time before moving easily through the lead and beating Beshabar by four and a half lengths.
October 2011 and 2013: won at the Showcase Meeting at 3-1 and 7-2
March 2012 and 2014: won the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at 11-2 and 4-1
The hugely popular Balthazar King won at the Showcase meeting three years on the spin and twice went on to score again at the Festival in a career that included eight Cheltenham victories.
In 2011, he won a three-mile handicap chase in October off a mark of 136 and later in the season dug deep to win the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase.
Balthazar King won the £50,000 Showcase Trophy in the autumn of 2013 and followed up at Cheltenham the following month before reclaiming his cross-country crown in March, when beating Any Currency by a short head.
October 2012: won the 2m 5f novices' hurdle at Evens
March 2013: won the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at 7-2
A slight error at the final flight could not prevent The New One defying a penalty on his second start over hurdles at the Showcase meeting seven years ago.
He kept on progressing that winter and returned in March to beat Rule The World by four lengths. The runner-up would go on to win the Grand National in 2016.
The New One ran at Cheltenham 16 times, winning on six occasions, before being retired last season.
October 2013: won a maiden hurdle at 8-13
March 2014: won the County Handicap Hurdle ay 11-1
Lac Fontana belatedly opened his account over hurdles at the October meeting, making all for a decisive success.
He also won on Festival Trials Day in January before getting the better of 27 rivals in the County Hurdle at the Festival.
Lac Fontana subsequently won in Grade One company at Aintree, too.
October 2014: won the bumper at 11-4
March 2015: won the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at 9-2
There were few more impressive winners at The Showcase meeting in 2014 as Moon Racer, making his British debut, made all for an emphatic 12-length win under Tom Scudamore.
More fragile than most, Moon Racer did not reappear until the Festival meeting and he was left playing catch-up after fluffing the start. David Pipe’s charge kept on strongly, though, to prevail by a length and a half.
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