Richard Forristal: Rebel Fitz can showcase his class at Cheltenham
Dawn Approach leads a strong Irish challenge that will attempt to emulate last year's epic Champions Day four-timer at Ascot tomorrow, though all eyes will first be on Rebel Fitz at an even more prolific stomping ground for the raiders this afternoon.
As the Flat and jump seasons vie for attention, Cheltenham takes the wraps off with its traditional two-day October Showcase meeting, with Mick Winters' 2012 Galway Hurdle hero the single most intriguing contender.
While he faces just two rivals in the novice chase, if all three keep their feet and he emerges on top for Barry Geraghty, it would amount to a resounding endorsement of his potential. Taquin Du Seuil was a smart novice hurdler for Jonjo O'Neill last term, while Colin Tizzard's Third Intention is also a useful sort.
Nonetheless, Winters has also got plenty of experience into the talented Rebel Fitz and he comes here looking to stretch his winning run to six from seven tries over fences. He is a fractious sort, but this less frenzied appointment has the makings of an ideal stepping stone for Rebel Fitz, so he is trusted to show the maturity required under his excellent rider.
The three-mile equivalent is also intriguing, with Henry de Bromhead hoping that the forecast good ground will help the unexposed Sizing Symphony add to his facile 2011 hurdle win on this card.
Gordon Elliott relies on Raajih, but preferred is Minella For Value on his bow for Newmarket-based Kilkenny native Johnny Butler. John Nallen spurned £118,000 at the sales for the Old Vic gelding in May 2012, a move that initially didn't look too wise.
However, Minella For Value is finally showing his true worth, completing a chasing hat-trick under a big weight at Gowran last time. With conditions to suit, he is fancied to go in again under Noel Fehily.
Rare Bob and Castletown Bridge also have each-way chances for the raiders, but Pat Neville's Rockshandy appeals as a better option in the amateur riders' handicap chase.
Tomorrow, Dawn Approach, which will be aided in its quest for Qipco QEII glory by pace-setting stablemate Leitir Mor, is set to face fellow raiders Gordon Lord Byron and Kingsbarns. Indeed, all six Ascot events are well contested by Irish raiders.
Barry Lalor's Prix de l'Abbaye hero Maarek will bid for successive victories in the Group Two sprint, with Viztoria, Balmont Mast, Slade Power and Cape Of Approval also declared.
In the Champion Stakes, Ryan Moore has deserted Michael Stoute's Hillstar to remain loyal to Ruler Of The World. Aidan O'Brien's colt will be joined by Parish Hall in the 10-furlong feature.
Jim Bolger, meanwhile, has revealed that his Irish Derby winner Trading Leather is to be roughed off for the year ahead of a four-year-old campaign.
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