Dave's Dream to prove a nightmare for rivals
Quality jump racing returns with a vengeance at Cheltenham this afternoon on an eight-race card that has got a bit of everything and which has been further enhanced by the addition of the re-arranged Grade One Tingle Creek Chase.
Nine Irish runners are scattered throughout the programme, including five in the day's major betting heat, a Grade Three Handicap Chase over two miles and five furlongs.
The Tony Martin-trained Psycho may be the best of that quintet, having come into his own over fences this year.
Twice successful in that sphere in the spring, he was still in the hunt when he fell shortly after passing the halfway point in the Ryanair Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival.
Since then, Psycho has brushed away the cobwebs with a respectable effort behind Captain Cee Bee on his return at Naas in October, before sluicing up in a decent conditions event at the same venue last month.
With the solid Grade One campaigner Osana behind him that day, Psycho looks to be in off a reasonable 11st 1lb in this company, and he is decent each-way value at up to 9/1.
However, at nine years of age, the fear would be that he might meet one or two with a bit more scope for improvement, so an alternative is preferred for the win.
While Little Josh and Robinson Collonges are two with plenty going for them, Dave's Dream is the one with ticks in all the right boxes.
Nicky Henderson's charge is a former Imperial Cup winner over flights, but he failed to fulfil his potential over fences last term after winning on his chasing debut.
The reason for that became clear at Cheltenham in November, when he strode home for an impressive eight-length triumph having undergone a wind operation in the off-season.
He has gone up 11lbs since but he still gets in off just 10st 11lb and it would be no surprise to see him defy the ratings hike now that his breathing has been sorted.
While Dave's Dream is stepping up in trip here from two miles, the longer distance is expected to be in his favour, as is the decent ground.
At a general 5/1, Barry Geraghty's mount still looks reasonably priced.
Earlier on the card, Gordon Elliot could bag a double if he gets the rub of the green with Carlito Brigante and Chicago Grey.
Strictly on form, both horses need to improve to win their respective heats, but it's not unlikely that they will.
In the three-mile novice chase, Chicago Grey bids to atone for an unfortunate fall here at the last meeting, when he was in command before crumpling under Davy Condon two out.
If he is to make amends, he will need to beat a very good horse in Time For Rupert, the runner-up behind Big Buck's in the World Hurdle in March.
However, Chicago Grey has been on a steep upward for a while now, and he had a lot of highly rated horses in trouble before his spill last time.
With three miles on good ground ideal, it's worth speculating that he can regain the winning thread.
Carlito Brigante has an even more daunting task in the Relkeel Hurdle.
A four-year-old tackling numerous older and more proven horses, the Gigginstown Stud-owned gelding is stepping up from two to two and a half miles, a tactic that is expected to play to his strengths.
The 13-runner field is full of solid horses at this level, including Celestial Halo, but most of them are well-exposed.
Carlito Brigante is one of two or three in the race that can still get better, and he is capable of causing an upset at a big price over this trip if he can build on a decisive win at Haydock last month.
Paul Nicholls is another man with a strong hand today. The champion trainer has any number of chances, though Master Minded and Silviniaco Conti are his two trump cards.
The latter, which steps up in class under Noel Fehily in the International Hurdle and can be backed at 3/1, may have been underestimated by the layers.
Best bet: Dave's Dream