Cheltenham specialist Perfect Candidate heads the Fergal O'Brien-trained runners gearing up for The Showcase, the opening meeting of the new season at the Home of Jump Racing, on Friday, October 27, and Saturday, October 28.
Perfect Candidate will bid to go one better than two years ago in the £50,000 randoxhealth.com Handicap Chase (2.00pm) over three miles and a furlong, which opens the seven-race programme on the second day, October 28.
The 10-year-old, a dual winner in handicap chases at Cheltenham in 2016, proved he is as good as ever when shouldering top-weight to victory in a veterans' handicap chase at Exeter in February. He has not raced since the Randox Health Grand National at Aintree in April when he was pulled up.
O'Brien, who is based not far from Cheltenham near Guiting Power, said: "Perfect Candidate will start off at The Showcase in the randoxhealth.com Handicap Chase.
"He is in great form at the moment, but looks in the grip of handicapper with a rating of 154. He is too highly-rated to run in veterans' races, so we will have to find a route with him.
"The Showcase looks like a good starting point as he loves Cheltenham and then we could maybe look at something like the Randox Health Becher Chase (at Aintree on December 9) afterwards.
"We have a couple of nice youngsters in Coolanly and Herecomestheboom who may go for the bumper (Naunton Standard Open NH Flat, 5.30pm Saturday). Coolanly is a nice horse and won a point-to-point in March, while we bought Herecomestheboom at Ascot Sales after he finished second in a point-to-point.
"Aye Aye Charlie could run in one of the novices' hurdles at The Showcase. He is a half-brother to Chase The Spud [won Midlands National for O'Brien in March] and showed promise in bumpers last season.
"Petit Power will go for the amateur riders' handicap on the Friday (Centaur Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase, 4.20pm) - we won that last year with Troika Steppes."
Saturday's card also features the £50,000 Randox Health Handicap Chase over two miles. Last year's renewal was won in great style by star chaser Fox Norton, who ended the campaign with G1 triumphs at Aintree and Punchestown.
JCB Triumph Hurdle hero Defi Du Seuil (Philip Hobbs), unbeaten in seven hurdle races, is on course to make his eagerly-awaited comeback in the £35,000 Masterson Holdings Hurdle (2.35pm). The two-mile contest, restricted to four-year-olds, is also set feature recent Bangor scorer Bedrock (Dan Skelton).
Friday's seven-race programme, starting at 2.00pm, includes several non-graded novice contests over both hurdles and fences. Past winners on the day include subsequent G1 scorers The New One and Lac Fontana.
The total amount of prize money at The Showcase has risen to a new record of £319,000. The opening Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Race is now worth £20,000, up 18%, while the three novices' chases and the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle receive a 25% boost from £20,000 to £25,000.
The going at Cheltenham is currently Good with unsettled conditions the outlook for the next few days.
As well as all the action on the track, racegoers will also be able to get behind the scenes of "The Sport of Kings" at The Showcase. There will be guided tours of the Parade Ring and Weighing Room before racing, as well as various activities and displays about the sport.
Tours will take place approximately every half an hour, starting from The Plaza, once gates have opened, up until half an hour before the first race.
The Showcase Food & Drink Zone, staged for the first time in 2014, returns to The Centaur to demonstrate all that is great about the food and drinks producers of the Cotswolds.
The racecourse sits in the heart of the Cotswolds and there are many amazing elements of the region that will be celebrated in The Showcase Food & Drink Zone.
Stands include those from local companies such as Pie And Might Pies, The Old Chapel Fudge Company and Severn Cider.
A full list of stands can be found here: http://cheltenham.thejockeyclub.co.uk/the-showcase-food-and-drink-zone
Friday, October 27
2.00 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Race 2m 5f £20,000
2.35 squareintheair.com Novices' Chase 2m £25,000
3.10 Brandon Hill Capital Handicap Hurdle (0-140) 2m 5f £12,000
3.45 Ryman Stationery Cheltenham Business Club Novices' Chase 3m ½f £25,000
4.20 Centaur Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase (0 -125) 3m 1f £12,000
4.55 Foundation Developments Ltd Maiden Hurdle 2m ½f £10,000
5.30 Racing UK Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (0-140) 2m ½f £10,000
Saturday, October 28
2.00 randoxhealth.com Handicap Chase 3m 1f £50,000
2.35 Masterson Holdings Hurdle 2m ½f £35,000
3.10 Randox Health Handicap Chase 2m £50,000
3.45 Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle 3m £25,000
4.20 Royal Gloucestershire Hussars Novices' Chase 2m 4f £25,000
4.55 The Showcase Novices' Hurdle 3m £10,000
5.30 Naunton Standard Open NH Flat Race 2m ½f £10,000