The ground was described as good – good to soft in places – at noon on Thursday for today’s card at Cheltenham the first meeting of the year at the home of jumps racing. Further showers are forecast but it should be perfect jumping ground and ITV (4) are broadcasting the first four races.

In the opening Novice Hurdle Ask For Glory is a short price to give Paul Nicholls his fourth win in the corresponding race in the last eight years. The six-year-old has only run on soft ground and was visually very impressive when landing the odds at Wincanton over hurdles back in February. He has the potential to go to the very top although chasing will be his game sooner rather than later.

The each way recommendation – 2 places – is Midnight River (1.50) who picked up Shantou Express at Uttoxeter over 2m 4f earlier in the month and appreciated the step up in trip having looked one-paced in a couple of Bumpers over the minimum trip. Shantou Express was a facile winner at Exeter earlier in the week although it is possible that he would have had a fight on his hands had his nearest challenger not come down two out. The 15/2 looked too big on Thursday and the ew recommendtion is 4s with Boylesports.

I am looking forward to the chase debuts of Ask Dillon and particularly Mossy Fen in the 3m Novice Chase and the latter would have got the vote on soft ground. Preference however is for Galvin (2.25) even though the Irish raider must give 8lbs to the newcomers and has yet to confirm he stays this trip.

The selection – 15/8 with BetVictor – finished runner up in the last renewal of the 2m 4f Novice Handicap Chase at the Festival here back in March when he split two very well handicapped British horses in Imperial Aura and Hold The Note despite a bad blunder at the first. Gordon Elliot’s six-year-old is unbeaten in three subsequent starts in Ireland and there is the possibility that he will improve again for the step up in trip.

My two against the field in the handicap hurdle over 2m 5f are Good Man Pat and Young Lieutenant (3.00) with preference for the latter who bounced scored at Sedgefield last time when he appreciated the combination of good ground and two-and-a-half miles. Jack Tudor takes off a valuable 5lbs on the each way selection and the 16/1 available at Boylesports who are paying five places looks attractive.

Neil Mulholland has his string in excellent form, and I hope to see Scardura (3.35) build on last month’s Newton Abbott success despite being 10lbs higher in the weights. The selection overjumped and unseated Robbie Dunne at Perth on his penultimate start but fenced well for Sam Twiston-Davies last time and carries the minimum weight of 10st this afternoon.

The 11/2 – 4 places – with William Hill looks fair although he will not have things to himself at the head of affairs with market leader On The Slopes a confirmed front-runner.      

At Newbury I hope to see Jacinta De Vega (3.25) make a winning handicap debut in the 1m 5f contest. The filly has improved with each of her three runs to date and was doing all her best work late on over 1m 4f last time. She promises to appreciate today’s additional furlong although she is not yet proven on heavy ground. The 7/2 with BetVictor and William Hill looks fair.

At Doncaster Astro King (3.50) has been off the track since finishing second at Chelmsford back in July when he failed by a couple of lengths to give 7lbs to Tenbury Wells. He makes his turf debut this afternoon on ground which was described as good to soft on Thursday morning. William Buick takes over in the saddle with Ryan Moore having a good book of rides at Newbury.

Buick is making a late charge for the jockey’s title – 12 behind Oisin Murphy – before racing on Thursday and I hope to see A’Shamardi (5.03) run a big race in the finale in south Yorkshire. The selection did not get the clearest of passages, having travelled well, when fifth in first-time blinkers at Wolverhampton last time. The drop back to an extended 10f looks ideal and he can reward each way support at 5/1 with BetVictor.

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