The feature race on a superb card at Cheltenham this Saturday is the Grade 3 BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase (14:25).
In a typically fierce renewal of the 2m 4f contest, Spiritofthegames looks to have lots going for him.
This Dan Skelton trained seven-year-old has some very strong form in ultra-competitive hurdles contests in 2017-18.
Spiritofthegames finished a fine third to Kalashnikov in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and an excellent 4 3/4 lengths seventh of 19 to Jester Jet at the Aintree Grand National Festival.
The son of Darsi looked the type to come into his own when sent chasing. That view was confirmed when he made a winning debut over the larger obstacles in a Listed contest at Chepstow first time up last season when scoring easily by six lengths.
Spiritofthegames then ran no sort of race when finding Grade 2 company too hot and last of four to La Bague Au Roi at Newbury, shaping as if something was amiss.
Cracking runs here including at Cheltenham Festival
Following a break he duly showed that running to be all wrong when a 2 1/2 lengths third of eight to Kildisart at this venue, where he was making good headway only to get slightly hampered three from home but then stay on strongly and be nearest at the finish.
Spiritofthegames then finished a cracking third of 22 to Siruh Du Lac in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
He came from off the pace and stuck to the task well for pressure to be nearest at the finish and beaten just three lengths.
As Spiritofthegames now meets the winner on 6lb better terms, that gives him leading claims of turning the tables with that rival who is the 11/2 joint-favourite for this renewal of the BetVictor Gold Cup.
It also makes the 7/1 on offer with the sponsors about Spiritofthegames look decent value, especially as he has a very good record fresh and is versatile as regards ground.
Slate House looks plenty short enough
Slate House shares favouritism with the aforementioned Siruh Du Lac following a dominant 11-length victory in a novice chase over course and distance at The Showcase meeting last month.
After being held-up, the Colin Tizzard trained seven-year-old made good headway to track the leaders going well three from home. Slate House then took up the running on the bit two from home.
When Robbie Power pressed the button, he scooted clear to easily beat Garo De Juilley by 11 lengths on very testing ground.
That was a third course success for this son of Presenting, who had endured a spell in the wilderness having looked a very exciting prospect in the early stages of his hurdling career.
Slate House has been allotted an opening chase mark of 147 on the back of that facile success. That looks exploitable, given that he was rated 143 over the smaller obstacles after winning a Grade 2 here.
The big question, however, is whether he will be able to back up that effort or bounce as it was his first start after undergoing wind surgery for a second time.
Slate House has clearly had issues and this will also be just his sixth start over fences. The fact that he lacks experience in big fields is another negative, so – at 11/2 with Coral – he looks plenty short enough and worth taking on.
Count Meribel has solid each-way claims in BetVictor Gold Cup
Given that he’s also a course and distance winner and ran well when runner-up on seasonal appearance, Count Meribel looks a solid each-way contender at 10/1 with Ladbrokes.
That success came at this meeting 12 months ago where the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained seven-year-old overcame a bad mistake two from home to hold on gamely by a neck from Le Breuil.
The winner went on to land the Grade 2 National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival off an official rating of 145, so the form is smart. It also suggests Count Meribel’s current mark of 146 should not be beyond him.
He also comes into this having shaped with plenty of promise when a 2 1/4 lengths runner-up to leading Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Lostintranslastion in the Listed 2m 4f Colin Parker at Carlisle 13 days ago.
Although no match for the winner, who scored with tons more in hand than the winning margin suggests, the son of Three Valleys stuck to the task really well and pulled nine lengths clear of the 156-rated Kilidistart from whom he was receiving just 4lb.
That is once again a run which gives Count Meribel major claims from a handicapping perspective. He also has a terrific strike rate of 80 per cent over the trip – plus proven winning form on soft ground.
Jockey Mark Grant also gets a great tune out of Count Meribel, so everything looks in place for a huge run in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
Eamon An Cnoic a lively outsider
Of those at bigger odds, Eamon An Cnoic is another that appeals each-way at a tasty 25/1 with William Hill.
This David Pipe trained eight-year-old ran very well in this contest 12 months ago when an 11-length fifth of 18 to Baron Alco off a mark of 135.
He also ran a blinder over course and distance when fading late on to finish a 3 1/2 lengths fourth of 22 to Siruh Du Lac in the aforementioned Grade 3 Brown Advisory Plate at the Cheltenham Festival off 137.
Eamon An Cnoic is able to run in this off just 1lb higher (138), so he’s entitled to be very competitive on the pick of his form. The son of Westerner also revels in the mud.
That is going to be a big plus at a rain battered Prestbury Park where racing on day one of The November Meeting was abandoned due to waterlogging.
Eamon An Cnoic, therefore, looks to have far more going for him than his massive odds would suggest and thus had to feature as another potential each-way punt in a cracking renewal of the BetVictor Gold Cup.