I am sure racing fans let out a little cheer when the news broke on Friday that the meeting at Cheltenham on Saturday will go ahead.
Conditions are certain to be testing but that will not dampen the enthusiasm of racegoers who are in for a treat with a bumper eight-race card to look forward to which features the BetVictor Gold Cup.
Thankfully the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle has been rescheduled from Friday and will now be the opening race on Saturday as I am keen on the chances of Dancing On My Own who is certain to relish conditions having bolted up on heavy ground at Wexford in October.
The four-year-old was clearly suited returning to a left-handed track having disappointed at the Galway Festival on his previous start and, although he needs to prove he stays this extra trip, connections seem confident this sort of test will suit, with the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival in March his long-term target.
The Irish raider shaped with bundles of promise last season and was not beaten far by subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Klassical Dream on two occasions before disappointing on his first start at Cheltenham when failing to complete in the Coral Cup.
However, it is probably best to ignore that run given he was too keen during the early stages of the race and was still travelling relatively well before a bad blunder three from home ended his chance.
This is obviously a much stronger contest than the race he won at Wexford, but the runner-up won next time out and the general 7-1 on offer looks fair.
Pop Rockstar went into plenty of notebooks, including mine, when bolting up at Chepstow on his final start last season where he scored with plenty in hand and looked well ahead of the handicapper.
Jonjo O’Neill’s charge was not seen again until October but managed to defy a 12lb rise in a competitive handicap chase at Carlisle.
The seven-year-old was weak in the market beforehand, which hinted connections believed he would come on for the run, and although he now finds himself on a career-high rating of 138, he looks capable of coping with another 8lb rise with further progress on the cards and that run under his belt.
Pop Rockstar will have no problem handling conditions, either, as he has won and been placed on heavy ground in the past and has shaped as though this trip will be within reach.
Another career best will be needed, but the excellent Jonjo O’Neill Jnr is in the saddle once again, and there is plenty to like about his chances.
The BetVictor Gold Cup looks as competitive as ever with 18 runners set to go to post for thee Grade Three contest. I've managed to narrow my shortlist down to two.
Spiritofthegames was placed twice at Cheltenham last season, including when third behind Siruh Du Lac in the Brown Advisory at the Festival, so clearly likes the track and is weighted to reverse form with that rival now they both have a rating of 150.
Dan Skelton’s charge disappointed at Aintree on his final start in Grade One company last season but bled from the nose on that occasion, so his below-par effort is easily excused.
He remains open to improvement over fences given he has only had five starts over the larger obstacles and this is likely to have been the plan for some time. He has also undergone wind surgery over the summer and has won on his seasonal debut for the past three years.
However, the one I am siding with is Count Meribel who lost little in defeat when chasing home live Gold Cup contender Lostintranslation at Carlisle on his seasonal debut 13 days ago.
The benefit of a recent run is always a positive at this time of year, especially in testing conditions which the seven-year-old will have no problem handling given he has produced some decent efforts on soft and heavy ground.
The talented hurdler made a promising start to life over fences last season and landed a novices’ chase at this meeting 12 months ago where he defeated Le Breuil plus also finished second in a Grade Two over hurdles at the track in 2017.
A rating of 146 looks fair given the form he has achieved so far and his trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, has won this race four times in the past plus has been operating at a strike-rate of 22 per cent in the past fortnight.
The Unibet Greatwood Hurdle takes centre stage at Cheltenham on Sunday and I was pleased to see Monsieur Lecoq among the declared runners as I backed him earlier in the week for this two-mile contest.
This imposing five-year-old improved leaps and bounds last year after getting off the mark at Ffos Las in heavy ground and produced an impressive performance on his handicap debut to win at Sandown off a rating of 122 before finishing second in the Imperial Cup at the same track on his following start.
It was encouraging to see him score on his seasonal debut in the Welsh Champion Hurdle as, given his size and scope, it is likely that run was needed, and he travelled powerfully before showing a good attitude to get the better of Le Prezien.
One slight concern is that his only disappointing run last season was in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, but it was just six days after a hard race on soft ground in the Imperial Cup and he probably found the run coming too soon.
I would not want to back him at any shorter than 9-2 given the nature of this race and a further 7lb rise demanding more from him, but I still think this progressive individual is one to be on with the likelihood of a lot more to come.
How To Bet £20 on Saturday:
12.05 Cheltenham: £4 win on Dancing On My Own at a general 7-1
1.50 Cheltenham: £5 win on Pop Rockstar at 11-2 with Bet365
2.25 Cheltenham: £3 each-way on Count Meribel at a general 10-1 with Coral and Ladbrokes
3.00 Cheltenham (Sunday): £5 win on Monsieur Lecoq at 9-2 with William Hill
Six £3 win doubles plus a £1 each-way accumulator
12.05 Cheltenham: Dancing On My Own
1.50 Cheltenham: Pop Rockstar
2.25 Cheltenham: Count Meribel
3.00 Cheltenham (Sunday): Monsieur Lecoq
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