The ground at Cheltenham eased to good to soft – soft in places – after 4mls of overnight rain on Thursday. There is no further rain forecast between the time of writing and post time for today’s feature meeting.

There is a fascinating 2m handicap chase, and the Jonjo O’Neill/Tom Scudamore partnership did us a big favour in the Ladbrokes Trophy from the foot of the weights two weeks ago and Sky Pirate (1.15) can reward each way support dropping back to the minimum trip for the first time in his 17-race career.

The selection often travels well into his race but flatters to deceive as was the case in last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup when he looked to be going better than anything before he clouted two out and faded up the hill. A strong pace is guaranteed with Gino Trail and possibly Ibleo likely to ensure a good gallop. Scudamore was able to do 10st on Cloth Cap a fortnight ago and can comfortably do 10st 1lb today. There was 6s available on Friday morning but the recommendation is into 10/3 with 10bet on Friday evening.

The big betting race of the day is the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and Champagne Mystery is of interest near the foot of the weights on his seasonal reappearance. I remember how well he won first time out last season and he has had a wind operation ahead of his return. If he settles, he will be a tough nut to crack but he will not get a soft lead with Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Coole Cody in opposition.

My two against the field are Cepage and Windsor Avenue (1.50) with the latter getting the each way vote for Brian Ellison. The 8-year-old has never run in a field of more than ten and this 16-runner contest might be all a bit too much for the selection but, if he gets into a nice jumping rhythm, I believe he is fairly treated. Ellison has gone on record as saying he is the most talented horse he has had in his care and the time is right for him to dip his toe into these deeper waters. The 15/2 – six places – at William Hill is the recommendation.

In the International Hurdle Goshen (3.00) makes his belated seasonal reappearance and puts his Champion Hurdle credentials on the line for Gary Moore. The selection receives weight from the other principles and would have won last years Triumph Hurdle by a minute had he not unseated Jamie Moore at the last with the race in safekeeping.

At the time I thought it was a poor renewal of the 4-year-old Grade 1 but runner up Aspire Tower beat subsequent Grade 1 winner Abacadabras on his return and third home Allmankind has been a revelation over fences and made all to win the G1 Henry VIII at Sandown last weekend. The waters are muddied somewhat because Goshen failed to take advantage of what looked a good mark on the flat during the summer and has been taken out of a couple of races in recent weeks.

The Moore stable are now firing on all cylinders and the trainer is happy for his stable star to take his chance. He will not get a soft lead with Song For Someone in the field, but he did not make all in the Triumph and it would not surprise me to see the four-year-old sat behind the Tom Lacey runner. If there is a Champion Hurdler on show it is Goshen – 2/1 with Boylesports – although, with the Festival in March in mind, Epatante and Saint Roi look a class apart to my eyes in the division.

Over at Doncaster and Wild Max (12.55) has been raised 6lbs for a fluent win at Huntingdon last time but that is negated by the 7lbs that leading amateur Angus Cheleda claims. The young jockey did us a favour when scoring on Miranda at Ludlow in these colours last week and the forecast good to soft ground is ideal. The 9/4 with BetVictor is fair.    

In the G2 Novice Chase Ofalltheginjoints (2.05) is taken to make it two out of three over fences for the Colin Tizzard yard. The selection built on the promise of his third at Aintree on his chase debut to win a decent handicap off top weight at Exeter. I thought that was a good performance under Robbie Power and I would be disappointed if he did not go very close. The 5/4 with Boylesports is the recommendation.

At the time of writing two of the last three horses that Henry Oliver has saddled have won and I felt the perennial bridesmaid Singlefarmpayment (3.15) ran well on his first start for the stable in a Veterans’ Chase at Sandown last month when he wasnt beaten far despite a slipped saddle.

Yes, the each way selection has only won one of his 19 chase starts and Oliver fits him with a hood – has wore previously -this afternoon as he can be keen in his races. He has been dropped another couple of pounds for his reappearance and is fairly treated on his best form.William Hill were 10s when betting opening on the raced on Thursday but the ew selection is now a best price of 6s with Unibet.

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