Cheltenham Racecourse staged a press conference today ahead of the exciting three-day The November Meeting which starts on Countryside Day, Friday, November 17 and finishes on The November Meeting Sunday, November 19.
The three-day extravaganza features two very prestigious and valuable G3 handicaps, the £160,000 BetVictor Gold Cup (2.25pm, Saturday, 22 confirmations) and the £100,000 Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle (3.00pm, Sunday, 23 confirmations).
Champion trainer Nicky Henderson was joined by Paul Nicholls, Jamie Snowden and Harry Fry at Kempton Park this morning to discuss runners over the three days.
Henderson said: "The plan is to run Theinval (25/1 with BetVictor), Days Of Heaven (25/1) and Gold Present (12/1) in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
"Theinval was unlucky all last season. He finished third in the Grand Annual at The Festival, second at Aintree, then we ran him twice at Ayr on the Friday and Saturday, and the best of the four runs was probably at Ayr on the Saturday.
"He kept finishing second and one day we will get it right. He tanks into the race and probably ends up getting there a bit too soon.
"He ran very nicely at Ascot the other day [fourth] over two miles. I think two and a half is more his trip.
"Days Of Heaven has got himself too high in the handicap - he is up to 150 - and prefers fast ground.
"He has had a busy summer and we will probably put him away after this, but he has an American owner who is coming over so he will have a go.
"Gold Present's trip two and a half and he ran a very good race [to be second] in the novices' handicap at The Festival.
"We have no fears as he is a good jumper and that bit of experience looks pretty solid.
"We have left Jenkins (6/1 joint favourite with Unibet) and Call Me Lord (16/1) in the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle.
"Jenkins is an intended runner, whereas Call Me Lord runs tomorrow at Huntingdon. Racing managers have lots of idea so we have left Call Me Lord in, just in case, but in case of what I don't know - if he falls at the first or he wins? I would think he is an unlikely runner.
"Jenkins was awful the whole way through last season. He won at Newbury but he was still awful. He didn't jump at home and his work was rubbish.
"He went to Kempton over Christmas and was terrible, then he went to Ffos Las and fell in the most appalling race you have seen in your life, and somehow we have got to a rating of 137. Where in the world he got that from, I don't know? He is handicapped on his reputation from bumpers - it is nothing to do with what he achieved over hurdles.
"We will see because for some extraordinary reason he is a completely different horse this season - he wants to jump and wants to work. We start here as he has got to start somewhere.
"We will run some nice novices over the three days including On The Blind Side [G2 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, Friday 3.35pm], who nicely first time at Aintree.
"River Wylde pleased me the other day on his first start over fences and he could go for the Racing Post Arkle Trial Novices' Chase [Sunday 1.50pm].
"There is a nice juvenile filly called Apple's Shakira who will probably go for the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial [Saturday 12.40pm]. She has won a race in France and is a full-sister to Apple's Jade.
"We will also run a couple - Brave Eagle and Follow The Bear - in the Martin & Co Jewellers Intermediate Handicap Hurdle [Saturday 3.30pm]."
Nicholls commented: "We have left three in the BetVictor Gold Cup. Clan Des Obeaux (25/1) runs today (finished second) and we left in him just in case he fell at the first. He will probably head to Cheltenham in December. The two that will run are Romain De Senam (10/1) and Le Prezien (12/1).
"Romain De Senam caught me by surprise a bit when he won at Chepstow. That race may have fell apart as they did go quick, and then he won again six days later at Stratford. I had to run him quickly under the penalty as he was going up 12lb.
"He needs a real fast run race, which he will hopefully get at Cheltenham on Saturday, and he is in good shape. He is an improving five-year-old.
"Le Prezien ran very well and was only beaten a neck at Cheltenham last time. He obviously gets further than two miles and that will have sharpened up his jumping. Two miles and five probably suits him better than two miles.
"He is rated 150, which is quite high, and went up 6lb for finishing second the other day. That isn't going to help too much, but he is a young, game horse who gets a trip and he must have a chance.
"Le Prezien jumped soundly the other day, whereas at the backend of last season he didn't jump particularly well and that will cost you around Cheltenham.
"Old Guard (25/1) is one of two we will run in Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle. He has 10st 12lb and Bryony Frost will take off another five. That is a real racing weight for him because he was running in all the big races and obviously wasn't quite good enough.
"He had a wind operation over the summer and ran really well at Chepstow on his reappearance before winning nicely at Kempton. He is 4lb higher than he won this a couple of season ago, but after that he went on to win the International Hurdle. He must have a chance.
"The other runner is Amour De Nuit (20/1), who has 10st 1lb. He won a Listed novices' hurdle at Kempton and was a good horse on the Flat, rated 100.
"He has kept improving and the dry ground will suit him, as will a fast run race. He has got plenty of experience in novices' hurdles and jumps well. At 25/1, he is a big outsider.
"We have plenty entered in the novices' chases at The November Meeting. Movewiththetimes is in the Steel Place And Sections Novices' Chase (2.25pm) on Friday and the Racing Post Arkle Trial Novices' Chase (1.50pm) on Sunday.
"Black Corton keeps progressing and runs in the mallardjewellers.com Novices' Chase (1.15pm Saturday) over three miles. Capitaine is also in the Racing Post Arkle Trial. We will sort them out later in the week."
Snowden revealed: "Double Treasure (16/1) won three times in handicaps, so we decided to put him back into novice company last time when he jumped, galloped and stayed really well.
"He put in a pretty good performance that day to beat higher-rated horses and, on the back of that, has obviously gone up in the weights. He has got to improve again for the BetVictor Gold Cup, but we think he has.
"There is a new rule this season that if you finish second or worse in a novices' chase, you are not going to go up in the handicap, and we went in there rated 137.
"I felt he could run a good race and finish second or third, have a spin around Cheltenham and go to the BetVictor off 137. If that was the case, I would be standing here saying he is an absolutely certainty, but fortunately or unfortunately - whatever way you look at it - he won and has gone up in the handicap as a result.
"He used to be an absolute lunatic, but now he has learnt to relax and race properly. And because of that, he has improved dramatically.
"The way he is working at home suggests that he is full of confidence, which can happen when horses get on a roll. He is working brilliantly and looks like he is improving with each of his wins.
"He has got to go and do it in a big field handicap like the BetVictor, but the way he is going at home suggests that he has every chance.
"We have done his wind, so he probably doesn't want the ground too soft. We got him out early looking for better ground and that seems to suit him. The fact we are in for a dry week is a help to him."
Fry remarked: "The owners of Kylemore Lough (7/1 favourite with BetVictor) rang up at the end of May asking if we wanted to train the horse. It is a tricky situation as we know what it is like when the boot is on the other foot, but we are in the business of training horses and clearly he is a very high-class horse, so we immediately said yes.
"We have been very happy with him since he came to us. He was a G1-winning novice chaser for Kerry Lee and the pressure is on us to produce the same sort of form that he did for them.
"The nice thing is that he turned up at the end of May. We were able to assess him, give him a break and start afresh with him. It is not as though he turned up a couple of weeks ago.
"We have been grafting away at home and have been happy with his progress and what he has been showing us.
"He was top-weight when fifth in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last season and is 2lb lower now. He has a good record fresh as well and that is why we targeted the BetVictor Gold Cup when we mapped out his campaign. It was always going to be the starting point.
"Misterton (12/1) has been left in the Unibet Greatwood Handicap Hurdle. He won nicely at Chepstow in October and the form has been franked with Elgin winning at Ascot a couple of weeks ago.
"It will be interesting to see if The New One runs as we are a 1lb out of the handicap as things stand.
"He is a young horse going in the right direction. We know he stays further and Noel gave him a positive ride at Chepstow over two miles. It is bound to be strongly-run race on Sunday and his stamina should come into play up the hill.
"We will see what the weights are looking like before deciding if he definitely lines up."
Simon Claisse, Regional Head of Racing Jockey Club Racecourses South West and Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham, said the going at Cheltenham today was Good to Soft for the chase and hurdle course and Good for the Cross Country course.
He explained: "It could well be perfect ground at the weekend for The November Meeting at Cheltenham this weekend.
"We had some nice rain on Friday and Saturday, which has put the chase and hurdle courses at Good to Soft.
"For any trainer worried about the ground becoming too easy, I have already said that there will be no more watering on the chase, hurdle and Cross Country courses.
"It is forecast to be a dry week - there could be a few showers around, but nothing of any significance.
"We are going to be a combination of Good to Soft and Good I think right across the three days.
"Mid-week we are expecting temperatures to go down to 1 degree Celsius or zero, but it is forecast to be considerably milder by the weekend.
"If you cast your minds back 12 months, the Glenfarclass Cross Country Handicap Chase could not be run at the meeting because that course was firm and hard and we were still watering the chase and hurdle course to get to Good by the Friday.
"A fortnight ago, we had some really nice ground at The Showcase a fortnight ago. We are not expecting much rain before The November Meeting starts on Friday, no more than a millimetre a day for the next four or five days."