THERE'S a fascinating contest in the Thursday opener and we got Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) to preview it for us.
Cheltenham 13:30 | JLT Novices Chase | Channel 4
First up today we have a 2m 4f Grade 1 Novice Chase that has attracted a strong field, but there are two that look head and shoulders above the rest – Vatour and Ptit Zig. They're the first two in the market, deservedly so, and I expect them to fight out.
Last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Vatour has come in to the Festival without the aura he left with last year. After his victory 12 months ago he was quoted at single figures to become the champion hurdler, and after connections decided to embark upon a chasing career he topped the ante post lists for the Arkle.
After a Novice Chase win he lined up in the Racing Post Novice chase at Leopardstown starting as a 1/4 chance, making a bone shuddering mistake five out, ending up 17 lengths adrift of the winner Clarcam.
He made amends in no uncertain fashion in his only other start, but suddenly in a stable full of superstars he was no longer sitting at the top table.
Ptit Zig contested some of the top hurdle races last season, falling just short of Champion Hurdle class. His first four chase starts were impressive, most notably giving weight and a beating to Tuesday's Arkle third Josses Hill, before falling in the Grade 1 Ascot Chase where he was taking on his elders.
Sent off at 6/4 favourite in that race indicates how well regarded the Paul Nicholls inmate is, and I have no doubt that he will have been well schooled before his return today.
There is very little between these two and after last year's win at the festival I'm swaying towards Vatour, but such is my confidence that these two will be fighting out the finish I will be placing a reverse forecast on this outcome as my main bet. This means they both have to finish in the first two in either order.
Cheltenham 13:30 – Vautour/Ptit Zig Reverse Forecast