A tense morning following 15mm of rain overnight at Prestbury Park saw the implementation of a 10am inspection, which I can thankfully say the course passed.
This does however mean only one thing and that is the prospect of very heavy going.
First up on the card is the juvenile hurdle with the impressive Who Dares Wins looking to take his step towards the festival. He is up against a Paul Nicholls trained youngster in Clan Des Obeaux who looked equally impressive at Newbury. The race looks between these two on the betting and with a win on ground descirbed as Heavy at Doncaster, where he showed a willing attitude to pull clear Who Dares wins may just edge this one.
The 1.15pm contest is one I am looking forward to with again the top two in the market looking to hold the aces. Un Temp Pour Tout was a class act over hurdles taking out a Grade 1 in Paris and has a raft of good form on the predicted heavy ground, however this is a chase and his form figures this season have surely been a little underwhelming on what could have been expected from his hurdling exploits.
Today he faces a horse in Imagine The Chat who as they say "could be anything". Having only his 8th racecourse appearance today he won as he liked last time out at Newbury under a supremely confident Sean Bowen who keeps the ride today. Rebecca Curtis's yard hasn't been it's usual sparkling self recently and Imagine The Chat has a 12lb rise to contend with along with a class opponent in Un Temp Pour Tout but this lightly raced 7yo could be improving enough to overcome these obstacles.
Feature number one on the card is the presence of the Gold Cup favourite Djakadam who was runner up in the blue riband itself last season. He is odds on for the Betbright Trial Chase but there are no easy races at this level and the imperious Hennessy winner Smad Place and the Grand National victor Many Clouds both line up in opposition, as well as the 2014 RSA winner O'Faolains Boy who returned to form at Newbury last time out. This is no walkover.
Willie Mullins has been seemingly farming big races in the UK this season with Grade 1 wins for Faugheen, Un Des Sceaux and Yorkhill since Christmas but todays race could be a tough ask for his latest raider. The main target is in March and having had only one run, albeit an impressive Grade 1 success since finishing runner up at Punchestown last spring there is every chance he may not be as ready as his opponents for this afternoon.
Many Clouds won the race last year and he has his ground for this, he made Don Poli pull out all of the stops at Aintree last time giving him 5lb and off level weights with Djakadam he will have every chance.
This race could be run at a very true gallop on very Heavy Ground and Smad Place could well be the answer. He will have a contest for the lead, but after running fourth after being ridden with more restraint last time there must be a temptation today to just let him get on with things up front.
So exhilarating was he at Newbury that connections were almost forced to go for the King George where a battle for the lead with Vautour and Silvinaco Conti was declined. He ran a race which suggested that these more staying contests are right up his street and in receipt of weight from the other two he could well reverse the placings with Many Clouds from last year following his new lease of life this season.
The obligatory cheltenham 2m4f handicap is up next and if anything gets within hailing distance of Champagne West I will be surprised. Only up 4lb having chased his stablemate Village Vic round, that must surely underestimate his chances and although short in the betting 2/1 could look very generous later this afternoon.
Alan King has been looking to test Yanworth's stamina and he has got his wish this afternoon in a competitive looking Neptune Investment at 3.00pm.
Barters Hill has defected to his first choice at Doncaster but the race still holds an abundance of potential. Shantou Village could not have been more eyecatching last time powering up the Cheltenham Hill, but his form has all been on better ground and Charmix won as he pleased by a wide margin at Newbury. Champers on Ice battled bravely at the last meeting and has form in the conditions having won over 2m4f at Newbury in the mud, but the interesting one could Chef D'Oeuvre. A point winner in the mud, the ground could not have been any heavier last time at Lingfield where he dismantled a Gary Moore trained odds on shot.
Then comes Feature number two of the day. Thistlecrack seems to be a very different horse when he can get his toe in and the conditions today surely could not be better for him.
The Long Walk and Long Distance hurdles have both gone his way this season and he could be called the winner both times a long way from home.
This afternoons rivals will provide a stern test with Chasers Ptit Zig and Camping Ground both returning to hurdling this year having suffered falls over the larger obstacles. Camping Ground returned with a resounding success in the Grade 2 Relkeel last time and this conditions will also suit him to a tee as it will Ptit Zig who's one doubt will be the trip.
It will however be a small surprise if Thistlecrack doesnt continue his improvement and this big horse can continue his march towards March !
The last race on the card always seems a bit anti climatic and I am sure by this point a lot of punters will either be swimming in their money or sunk in the car parks. Nothing really jumps off of the page, but sentiment would like to see a good run from Olofi. He has turned up to Cheltenham a ridiculous number of times over the years but has been woefully out of form in recent times.
The horse that has the mammoth task is the festival bumper winner Cheltenian who is giving over a stone to his contemporaries .. Wouldnt that be some performance to end a class card !