Trainer Graeme McPherson, who is based not far from Cheltenham at Stow-on-the-Wold, is looking forward to running his stable star Ami Desbois in the £35,000 BetBright Dipper Novices' Chase (1.25pm, 9 entries), one of the highlights of a cracking seven-race programme at the Home of Jump Racing on New Year's Day, Monday, January 1, 2018.
The seven-year-old Dream Well gelding enjoyed a good season over hurdles in the 2016/17 campaign, winning four times and also finishing fifth in the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at The Festival in March. This season he is a perfect two out of two over fences, with a pair of victories at Wetherby in November and December.
McPherson said today: "Ami Desbois will definitely go for the BetBright Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.
"He is in absolutely cracking form and I am delighted to see all this rain and dreadful weather about as it means it will have his optimum conditions for the first time this season.
"We had considered running him in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day but decided to wait for Cheltenham, due to the forecast. I had a walk around Kempton before Christmas and thought it walked good to soft, so even with some rain it was not likely to be as soft as Cheltenham will be after a week of rain.
"I think he would have run very, very well in the Kauto Star and the extra few days and the softer ground is going to help him rather than hinder him.
"I think it is going to be a very exciting race."
A formidable contest is in prospect for the BetBright Dipper Novices' Chase with the entries for the two mile and five furlong contest also including Willoughby Court (Ben Pauling), successful in the G1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at The Festival last season and faultless over fences this season with two successes from as many starts, most recently defeating Yanworth (Alan King), himself a dual G1 scorer over hurdles, in a G2 contest at Newbury on December 1.
Further interest is provided by Sizing Tennessee (Colin Tizzard), successful over an extended three miles and a furlong at The International on December 15 and Ballyandy (Nigel Twiston-Davies), who landed the ultra-competitive G3 Betfair Hurdle at Newbury as a novice last season and made the perfect start to his chasing career when successful at Perth in September.
There is also strong G2 action on New Year's Day in the £50,000 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (3.10pm, 12 entries) which could see three-time Cheltenham winner Old Guard (Paul Nicholls) take on the G2-winning mare Colin's Sister (Fergal O'Brien) and Wholestone (Nigel Twiston-Davies), a dual G2 scorer at Cheltenham.
Waiting Patiently (Malcolm Jefferson), who is yet to taste defeat in four starts over fences, heads 15 contenders for the day's richest race, the £75,000 G3 BetBright Best for Festival Betting Handicap Chase (2.00pm) over two miles and five furlongs.
His rivals could include recent Listed 188Bet Grand Sefton Handicap Chase third Sametegal (Paul Nicholls), Newbury handicap chase winner Oldgrangewood (Dan Skelton) and Foxtail Hill (Nigel Twiston-Davies), successful in the Randox Health Handicap Chase at The Showcase in October.
Racing gets underway at 12.15pm with the £25,000 Listed Ballymore Novices' Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles, which has 15 entries including G2 Persian War Novices' Hurdle winner Poetic Rhythm (Fergal O'Brien) and Newbury scorer Santini (Nicky Henderson).
Big Buck's captured the three-mile £25,000 BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle (2.35pm) in 2009 before going on to dominate the staying division and 14 entries for this year's race include several progressive types including Red Rising (Dan Skelton), Arthur's Gift (Nigel Twiston-Davies) and Dandy Duke (Tom George).
The £25,000 Listed EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club NH Flat Race (3.45pm) over a mile and three-quarters, which has 24 entries including recent Wincanton scorer Acey Milan (Anthony Honeyball), rounds off the card.
Gates open at 10.30am and, aside from the action on the track, there is lots to keep all members of the family amused. The ROA Family Fun Zone will have special visits from Paddington Bear, to coincide with the release of the latest film.
The first 500 children in the ROA Family Fun Zone will receive a walking pet balloon, and balloon artists Twistina and Twistopher will enthral younger racegoers their art. The entertainment also includes Showtime Shane, face-painting, pony plaiting, horse hoppers, colouring in and rosette making.
There is an abundance of activities for all members of the family to enjoy and certificates to take home to remember the day. There will also be live Animal Magic, bringing a collection of unusual animals to meet. The ROA Family Fun Zone is situated in the tented village.
There will be live music during the day throughout the arenas on New Year's Day, including from The Hipcats. For those who want to continue New Year celebrations, there will be post-racing entertainment from local Gloucestershire rock and pop cover band The Jacks in The Centaur.
The going at Cheltenham is currently: Heavy, Soft in places
There has been 50 millimetres of rain and snow in past seven days. There is a little lying snow, which is rapidly thawing.
The outlook is for a further 9 to 10 millimetres of rain on Saturday, with showers on Sunday and Monday and temperatures up to 9 Celsius by day with no frost.