Sizing Europe's comfortable win in the Tingle Creek at Sandown last Saturday showed that the reigning Champion Chaser will be hard to beat if he turns up next March in the same form.
He is 5/2 favourite with Sky Bet to retain his crown and, other than Finian's Rainbow, his rivals have been around some time and there are no surprises amongst them. That could prove to be a cracking bet.
In Ireland Sous les Cieux justified his trainer Willie Mullins' faith in him by winning the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse on Sunday. It's worth bearing in mind that the ground at Fairyhouse was heavy and it's extremely unlikely that he will have those conditions in March at Cheltenham.
However, if you fancy him for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle he is currently 10/1 with Sky Bet.
I hope you backed Voler la Vedette too in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle. She relished conditions at Fairyhouse and the tongue tie did its job once more as she won her first race at the highest level.
Whether she can beat Quevega in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival remains to be seen as she relishes the more testing ground but she deserved this Grade 1 success.
Finally, Bog Warrior came out best in the Drinmore and Cheltenham looks like it will be right up his street IF he gets cut in the ground - he is 8/1 for the RSA and 16/1 for the Arkle, but he won't go unless the ground is suitable.
One horse that did catch the eye at Fairyhouse was Sir Des Champs who won on his chase debut in the 2¾ mile Beginners' Chase. His trainer Willie Mullins seemed keen to drop him in trip and he is entered in the two mile, one furlong Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and that will tell us more. He is currently 12/1 for the RSA Chase and the same price for the Jewson Novices' Chase.
West End Rocker was the easy winner of the Becher Chase and one thing he showed us was that the fences hold no fears for him. The ground was heavy at Aintree though and he will be weighted according to that performance and it's some way to go until next April's Grand National, but he looks the type to jump round in the National (he was unlucky to be brought down last April) - he is 20/1 with Sky Bet for the race.
Stewart keen on Ghizao's Cheltenham chances
There is plenty of racing to look forward to this weekend with excellent jump racing at Cheltenham's International meeting and top-class flat racing in the early hours in Hong Kong on Sunday. There is also some decent jumping in Ireland on Sunday.
The December Gold Cup is one of the feature races at Cheltenham. I was at the HWPA lunch in London on Monday and leading owner Andy Stewart (who supported the awards and also sponsors this race in support of Spinal Injury research) said he fancies his horse Ghizao to run well in this two mile, five furlong Grade 3 Handicap Chase.
He put him up as his charity bet and he seemed very keen on the horse.
There are some people you take notice of when they fancy one and Stewart falls into that category.
The horse is 7/1 with Sky Bet behind 6/1 favourite Quantitiveeasing. Although Ghizao didn't set the world alight in the Haldon Gold Cup on his reappearance he is entitled to come on for that run and connections clearly haven't lost faith.
Great Endeavour is another 7/1 shot, his owner David Johnson is also the part owner of Ghizao. He ought to run well too judging on his performance in the Paddy Power and you can forgive him his defeat in the Hennessy as he didn't stay the trip at Newbury.
Paddy Power second Quantitiveeasing may be the favourite, but he isn't the choice of AP McCoy. The champ has chosen 7/1 shot Sunnyhillboy who only has 10 stone 4 to carry - AP must fancy his chances as that weight is near his minimum and you should always take a second look at horses he rides with a low weight.
Barry Geraghty rides the horse he has rejected for Nicky Henderson (both are owned by JP McManus). Divers was behind Great Endeavour in the Paddy Power and Ferdy Murphy's charge is another of the 7/1 shots - he will like the ground which is expected to be decent for this time of year (they have turned the taps on at Cheltenham for the first time ahead of this meeting). Having listened to Andy Stewart's confidence on Monday I find it hard to get away from Ghizao and last season's smart novice chaser gets my vote.
The International Hurdle is a key trial for the Champion Hurdle and we could see Overturn out again.
Donald McCain wants to take advantage of his favoured surface and he says he has come out of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle better than ever - he is 7/2 co-second favourite with Sky Bet.
Grandouet is the clear 11/4 favourite for Nicky Henderson and there is no doubting his potential over obstacles after a bloodless victory at Haydock last time out but I always have the niggle that he is still only four years old and I think it can be difficult for his age group against the established performers. Menorah and Brampour are also 7/2 chances.
Brampour is bidding to do the Greatwood/International double for Paul Nicholls and Harry Derham, but for me the interesting one is Menorah. It may have been a blessing in disguise that he unseated his rider on his chase debut at Exeter. His trainer Philip Hobbs felt a crack at this valuable prize was more worthwhile than picking up a smaller pot in a Novice Chase. He won this race last year beating Cue Card and if all goes well he may stay over hurdles and tackle the Champion Hurdle again - the two-mile Novice Chase division is looking pretty hot this season and it could be a wise move. Pittoni comes over from Ireland for Charles Byrnes but unless there is more rain than forecast he probably won't get his favoured soft ground. I adore Overturn but I'm going to take a chance on Menorah here.
Surface suits Joncol for National Hunt charge
Staying at Cheltenham and Oscar Whisky is bidding to get his season back on track in the Relkeel Hurdle and Nicky Henderson's charge is my selection in that Grade 2 race. Another to watch is Rev It Up who runs in the Grade 2 three-mile Novices' Hurdle for Tim Vaughan. My concern is the faster ground as he is better with a bit of cut and that is my one reservation.
The Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial is Sunday's National Hunt highlight. Rubi Light was third in the Ryanair but fell and was remounted when well fancied on his reappearance at Gowran Park in October where he would probably have beaten Sizing Europe if he had stood up. He has missed a couple of races since with a setback but has schooled well since that mishap.
Tranquil Sea comes here fit and fancied for Edward O'Grady in a bid to win this for the second successive year. Another former winner Joncol, missed the Hennessy at Newbury due to the faster ground, but he will definitely get his preferred surface here. I hope he runs well as he is one of my horses to follow this year. Willie Mullins looks like running Kempes and Cooldine.
Quite de la Roque doesn't line up which is a shame but that makes it all the more competitive and I'm going to stick with Joncol.
Hong Kong tussle for Dunaden and Red Cadeaux
In the early hours on Sunday morning there is top class racing from Sha Tin in Hong Kong. There is plenty of European interest and here's a quick spin through horses to watch out for.
Rocket Man is 2/1 favourite with Sky Bet for the Sprint, but he will have work to do from his draw in 13. Roger Charlton's Bated Breath also has a tough job being drawn next to him in 12 - he is 10/1.
The 9/2 second favourite Sacred Kingdom has the worst of the draw in 14 so it looks like it's going to be tough for the protagonists. I think it could be worth a small each way wager on 20/1 shot Society Rock who is well drawn in two for James Fanshawe. The Golden Jubilee winner was drawn badly at Haydock and Ascot on his last couple of starts so can be forgiven that and his trainer is having a great time with his sprinters this year.
Dunaden and Red Cadeaux were separated by a nose in the Melbourne Cup and they take each other on again in the Vase. Dunaden is 6/1 and Red Cadeaux 10s but over this 1m4f I'd prefer to be with the unlucky second for Ed Dunlop.
Charlie Hills is bidding for his first Group 1 winner with Redwood (8/1) in this race - the horse was second in this last year when his father Barry was still at the helm and he has thrived in the last few weeks.
I'm going for a British winner in this with Ed Dunlop's Red Cadeaux with Ryan Moore in the plate.
Freddie Head's grey Rajsaman has a good chance in the Mile - he is 8/1. He was third to Excelebration in the Prix de Moulin and fourth in this race last year when his trainer had only had him a month or so. I wouldn't be brimming with confidence but at that price I think he is a good each way bet. Finally the Cup and it looks a cracking race. Champion Stakes winner Cirrus Des Aigles is favourite with Sky Bet at 11/8 and has a good draw in two.
The 2/1 second favourite is Ambitious Dragon who is Hong Kong's leading middle distance performer. The Ascot winner has a great chance of taking this for France and I'm sticking with the favourite to win the big one for Europe.
Ghizao in the December Gold Cup @ 7/1 with Sky Bet
Menorah in the International Hurdle @ 7/2 with Sky Bet
Oscar Whisky in the Relkeel Hurdle
Joncol in the John Durkan Memorial
Hong Kong Sunday morning
Society Rock in the Sprint @ 20/1 with Sky Bet (each way)
Red Cadeaux in the Vase @ 10/1 with Sky Bet
Rajsaman in the Mile @ 8/1 with Sky Bet (each way)
Cirrus Des Aigles in the Cup @ 11/8 with Sky Bet