Unlike last season, SANTINI (3.30, nb) has had an uninterrupted preparation for this year’s Cheltenham Festival and can now show his true colours by taking today’s Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup. Last year the gelding was struggling for match fitness as a result of endless problems that confronted him that include a required flu injection close to the meeting, a foot of snow on his training grounds and problems with his feet.
Under the circumstances he was not disgraced when chasing home Topofthegame in the RSA Chase when he had Delta Work behind him in third place.
His trainer Nicky Henderson, successful in the contest with Bobs Worth and Long Run, is making encouraging noises about the gelding’s well-being and he rightly fears Al Boum Photo.
Willie Mullins has adopted the same route with Al Boum Photo that he did when the eight-year-old gave him his first victory in last year’s race.
He clearly has to be respected but this year’s contest is a stronger affair.
On past form lines, there is not much separating him and Kemboy, his stable mate.
He failed to complete the course in last year’s Gold Cup but came good when beating Al Boum Photo at Punchestown in May.
If there is a surprise package, Monalee, a 25-1 shot, has the credentials to pull it out of the bag.
He beat Al Boum Photo at Leopardstown back in 2018 and will not lack for assistance with Rachael Blackmore in the saddle.
If Lostintraslation returned to his early season form he would be a player but there is a huge question mark hanging over his head after he was pulled up behind Clan Des Obeaux in the King George VI Chase at Kempton in December.
Paul Nicholls is telling the world and his wife that Clan Des Obeaux is in the form of his life, but he needs to step up considerably on his fifth in last year’s contest.
Nicholls has the answer in the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle with SOLO (1.30, nap).
This French recruit came home with any amount in hand when making a winning hurdling debut in this country at Kempton last month.
He is rated the best juvenile in the country and connections had toyed with the idea of running the colt in the Champion Hurdle.
SAINT ROI (2.10), another recruit from France, is on a decent mark for his handicap debut and can give J P McManus another winner in the Randox County Hurdle.
Significantly, Barry Geraghty, his retained rider, takes the mount in preference to Ciel De Neige, the expected favourite.
McManus can also collect with FRONT VIEW (5.30, treble).
With his smart credentials he is astonishingly well-handicapped.
On his penultimate run he was beaten under two lengths by Envoi Allen, the impressive winner of Wednesday’s Ballymore Hurdle at Cheltenham, in a 17-runner contest at Down Royal in November.
Form lines with Envoi Allen give THYME HILL (2.50) the vote in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle.
He had finished third behind Envoi Allen in last year’s Champion Bumper at the Festival.
Patrick Mullins can make it a first victory in the St James’s Place Foxhunter with BILLAWAY (4.10).
He came good after he was stepped up in trip when beating Staker Wallace at Naas in January.
The lightly-raced CHOSEN MATE (4.50) showed he is going the right way after beating Capuccimix, a winner since, on his latest start at Gowran.