Shantou Village ready to roll
All the latest news from connections ahead of Saturday's card at Cheltenham.
Shantou Village: In action at Cheltenham on Saturday
Shantou Village returns to Cheltenham on Saturday to continue his education over fences in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Novices' Chase.
Neil Mulholland's six-year-old was one of the leading novice hurdlers last season but his chance of glory disappeared at the Festival when he suffered an injury in the Albert Bartlett.
He began his new career in faultless fashion at Fontwell in August but missed an intended run there in September as he was not quite right.
Shantou Village now faces a much tougher task at Cheltenham as he attempts to give 5lb to five potentially decent rivals.
"I was really pleased with his reappearance at Fontwell and, bar the last, he jumped well," said Mulholland.
"He was just a bit fresh coming down to it as he could have gone round again.
"We had initially planned to go back to Fontwell for another novice chase at the end of September but we weren't 100 per cent happy with him.
"He just wasn't sparking so we decided to wait."
Philip Hobbs runs Brother Tedd, a smart hurdler who was second on his chasing debut at Newton Abbot to the classy Virgilio.
Dan Skelton's Knockgraffon looked an ideal sort for chasing when he was running over hurdles last season, while the Paul Nicholls-trained Qualando was a Festival winner in 2015.
Mick Thonic has his first run for Colin Tizzard since leaving the retired Colm Murphy, with Martin Keighley set to saddle Solstice Star, a prolific winner over hurdles last season.
"We schooled him over fences before we turned him away last season and he has been very good," said Keighley.
"He really improved with every run last season and ran a cracking race in the Imperial Cup when second.
"If he could improve again, you would like to think he will reach a pretty high standard over fences."
The Masterson Holdings Hurdle looks informative, with Grade One winner Adrien Du Pont, trained by Nicholls, taking on five rivals.
They include Leoncavallo, formerly trained by John Ferguson but now with Ben Pauling after two runs on the Flat for Charlie Appleby.
"He is still owned by Bloomfields and came to us a day or two after his run at Pontefract, so he hasn't been here long," said Pauling.
"But he is fit from the Flat and is quite clearly a horse who is a much better hurdler than he is a Flat horse.
"We have given him a couple of pieces of work and schooled him over hurdles twice and his schooling has been electric.
"Having come from the Flat, he hasn't had much time to settle in and acclimatise.
"We hope he will run well and, after Saturday, we should be able to make some firm plans for him regarding the future."
Stuart Edmunds is responsible for Wolf Of Windlesham, a winner on the final day of the season at Sandown.
"I would say he is pretty straight for his first run back. We were looking at having a prep on the Flat but couldn't fit it in," said Edmunds.
"He definitely exceeded expectations last season. He was only rated 60 on the Flat going into it but the switch to hurdles has obviously brought out the best in him.
"To be honest, I think this year could be quite difficult. Is he going to be lumping big weights in handicaps, or can he step up a few grades?
"Saturday will tell us more as he has to carry an 8lb penalty for his win at Cheltenham in November.
"I just hope the rain stays away because needs nice ground."
Alan King's duo, Sceau Royal and Gibralfaro, cannot be ruled out, either.
Thistlecrack's half-brother West Approach reappears in the Richard Allen, Waters & The Brittons Novices' Hurdle, in which the hat-trick-seeking No Duffer is a leading player for Tom George.
The opening Randox Handicap Chase sees the Keighley-trained Any Currency have a first outing since confirmation of his disqualification from the Glenfarclas Chase at the Festival.
Keighley said of the popular 13-year-old: "He had his prep race at Aintree last season and the track was just a bit sharp for him.
"He loves Cheltenham and it is just down the road, so we will give it a go.
"It will hopefully leave him spot-on for the cross country race in November."
One man always worth a second glance when travelling from Ireland is Charles Byrnes, who runs Top Of The Town in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.
The eight-year-old is on a hat-trick, having won at Roscommon and Bellewstown in August.
"He looks to have a nice weight of 10st," said Byrnes.
"He has won on sharp tracks the last twice but I think the galloping track in Cheltenham will suit as he stays well."
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