Guitar Pete can become only the second dual winner of the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
The only previous horse to achieve the feat was the Paul Nicholls-trained Poquelin, who landed successive renewals of a race that has had several different names with victory in 2009 and 2010.
Guitar Pete, trained by Nicky Richards, ploughed through testing conditions to triumph 12 months ago and returns only 3lb higher and with a light weight on his back once again. Last season the grey warmed up for this event by finishing a moderate ninth in the BetVictor Gold Cup the previous month, whereas this year he ran much better to pick up minor honours in third in that similarly competitive handicap.
That performance can be marked up as he fared best of those that were ridden with restraint and there is every chance he can at least close the gap on the two that finished ahead of him – Baron Alco and Frodon.
Guitar Pete is clearly in good heart and double-figure odds are too tempting to pass up.
The withdrawal of Laurina takes a good deal of gloss off the Unibet International Hurdle, but at least it makes for an open renewal.
The vote goes to Summerville Boy, who beat the top-class Kalashnikov twice last season, including in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle here in March.
The fact he managed to overcome a terrible blunder two flights from home to win the traditional Festival curtain-raiser is testament to his ability and it is no surprise connections have decided to head down the Champion Hurdle route this season. His claims for the two-mile hurdling crown suffered an early knock as he disappointed behind dual champion Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle a fortnight ago.
However, he was beaten at Stratford on his seasonal debut last season and deserves another chance on a track which clearly suits.
Vinndication puts his unbeaten record on the line in the Ryman Novices’ Chase.
Trainer Kim Bailey has made no secret of the regard in which he holds this five-year-old, who won a bumper and was three times victorious over hurdles last term.
Bailey resisted the temptation to pitch his charge in at the deep end at the spring festivals with a view to the future and that decision should pay off in the long run.
Vinndication made a smart start to his career over fences at Carlisle last month and this contest should prove another handy stepping-stone to bigger and better things.
Paul Nicholls has won the bet365 December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster three times in the last five years and could well strike again with the hat-trick-seeking Coup De Pinceau.
The useful hurdler was an easy scorer on his chasing debut at Exeter and he ultimately had little trouble following up at Ludlow – albeit two of his three rivals failed to complete the course.
He has more on his plate stepping up to Grade Two level, but he is a sound jumper and should go well.
Stargazer will not be winning out of turn if he can land the Betway Stayers Conditions Stakes at Newcastle.
The five-year-old looked to have landed a valuable prize here in the spring, only to lose the race in the stewards’ room.
He has kept good company on turf since, running in the Chester Cup, the Cesarewitch and the November Handicap, before returning to the all-weather to finish second here little over three weeks ago.
Newcastle clearly suits Phil Kirby’s charge and another bold bid looks certain.
CHELTENHAM: 12.10 Quel Destin, 12.45 Vinndication (treble), 1.20 Top Gamble, 1.55 GUITAR PETE (NAP), 2.30 Doux Pretender, 3.05 Summerville Boy (next best), 3.40 Definitelyanoscar.
DONCASTER: 11.50 World Premier, 12.25 Angels Breath, 1.00 Dandridge, 1.35 Champagne City, 2.10 Coup De Pinceau, 2.45 Fret D’Estruval, 3.20 Barney Dwan.
HEREFORD: 12.00 Achille, 12.35 One For Rosie, 1.10 Miss Yeats, 1.45 Stowaway Magic, 2.20 Lamanver Odyssey, 2.55 Sackett, 3.30 Logan Rocks.
NEWCASTLE: 12.20 Highway Robber, 12.55 Stargazer, 1.30 Tomorrow’s Angel, 2.05 Pammi, 2.40 Para Mio, 3.15 Enchanting Man, 3.50 Firmament, 4.20 Star Cracker.
WOLVERHAMPTON: 5.15 Nutopia, 5.45 Storm Lightning, 6.15 El Hombre, 6.45 Coolspin, 7.15 Well Suited, 7.45 Juanito Chico, 8.15 Stand N Deliver, 8.45 Rock Bottom.