Open meeting: Six exciting potential Cheltenham runners

Thistlecrack: without question the star turn over Cheltenham's three days

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) Six exciting potential Cheltenham runners
By Stuart Riley 3:21PM 7 NOV 2016

THE Flat season is well and truly finished and the Open meeting is just around the corner. We pick out six superstars that could be in action at Cheltenham this weekend as the jumps season starts in earnest.

Ballyandy

Last season's Champion Bumper winner was last month nominated by trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies as one of the two horses he is most excited about this season and he looks likely to be in action over the weekend with two entries.

MOON RACER

Moon Racer (green) beat Ballyandy by three-quarters of a length at Perth

PICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)

If he runs on the Friday, in a Grade 2 over 2m5f, he could face stablemate Wholestone, Nicky Henderson's Baden and Thistlecrack's half brother West Approach. If he waits for the 2m Grade 2 on the Sunday we could see a rematch with his Perth conqueror, and 2015 Champion Bumper winner, Moon Racer and Thomas Campbell, an impressive winner from subsequent Sandown scorer Khezerabad at last month's Showcase meeting.

Fox Norton

Also a winner at last month's Showcase meeting was second-season chaser Fox Norton, who made ultra-light work of his handicap debut with an 11-length win off a mark of 146 for Neil Mulholland.

He has since been bought by Ann and Alan Potts and moved to Colin Tizzard, but Mulholland pinpointed the Grade 2 Shloer Chase as his next target and new connections are sticking to that plan.

With the likes of the returning Module, the fragile Simonsig and tearaway Special Tiara all among the entries it could prove an early indicator of whether it was money well spent.

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Winter Escape

Unbeaten, check. Big name trainer, check. World-famous owner, check. It's easy to see why JP McManus's Winter Escape is favourite for the Greatwood. Despite having raced just three times, twice when odds-on in fields of eight or smaller, he is already a Grade 2 winner thanks to his victory in the Dovecote and his trainer Alan King has a wonderful record with talented young hurdlers.

Winter Escape

Winter Escape: is the 100-30 favourite for the stanjames.com Greatwood

After that Dovecote success King described him as "potentially very, very exciting, " and the form has worked out well, with runner-up Marracudja a winner of both his starts over fences this season (he has achieved an RPR of 150), while the third, Welsh Shadow, was second in the Welsh Champion Hurdle off a mark of 140, just 2lb lower than Winter Escape will race off on Sunday.

More Of That

The first incarnation of the BetVictor Gold Cup has the potential to be a cracker with exciting Grade 2-winning novice Frodon taking on proven performers such as Top Gamble, Ballynagour and Taquin Du Seuil, last year's one-two Annacotty and Buywise, and a whole host of talented individuals.

But no horse is as exciting, or possesses as much potential, as Jonjo O'Neill's More Of That. The 2014 World Hurdle winner remains the only horse to have beaten Champion Hurdler Annie Power when she's stood up and a light novice chasing campaign, in which two facile victories were followed by a third in the RSA Chase when bursting blood vessels in each nostril, means he could line up here off a mark of 154.

His trainer has already labelled him a "certainty", even if ostensibly tongue-in-cheek, and he is a best-priced 33-1, and as short as 20-1, for the Gold Cup. Frodon, at 66-1 in just one book, and Vintage Vinnie at a biggest price of any horse quoted at 100-1 are the only others in this deemed worthy of pricing up for the festival's blue-riband event.

Cliffs Of Dover

Cliffs Of Dover was another to win at the Showcase meeting, one of five wins in six starts since he started hurdling towards the back end of August for champion trainer Paul Nicholls.

Cliffs Of Dover 360

Cliffs Of Dover has been mopping up juvenile hurdles in recent weeks

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

He has thrived on his racing, would have been thrown into the cauldron of the Greatwood if he wasn't too young and so instead targets the Grade 2 JCB Triumph Trial in which he faces a whole host of unexposed types from big yards. They could be anything, but they'll have to be very good to beat Cliffs Of Dover.

Thistlecrack

The Gold Cup favourite could make his second appearance over fences in the 3m novice chase on the Saturday. If he does it is unlikely many of the 16 other entries – including the likes of his World Hurdle victim Alpha Des Obeaux, Champers On Ice, Master Dee and O O Seven – will turn up.

That could be good news for the 2m4f novice chase on the Friday, which features all of those same horses as well as the likes of Rock The Kasbah, Aux Ptits Soins and Barters Hill, but it will be even better news for racing fans as it will afford them with another opportunity to see the ever-galloping, bold-jumping, and all-conquering superstar in full flight.

11 of his 16 potential opponents finished first or second last time out, including Aqalim who chased him home on his chasing debut at Chepstow, so he could well face a slightly stiffer test on Saturday. But considering the last two Gold Cup winners, Don Cossack and Coneygree, are at least twice the price of Thistlecrack for success in March, there should be very little that can trouble him here.

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