Village Vic returns to his favourite course for the BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Sunday.
The Philip Hobbs-trained runner won the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last season, as well as this race, and he has already put up two creditable displays in Cheltenham’s two biggest handicaps this term.
Reeled in by Taquin Du Seuil in the final strides of the BetVictor Gold Cup, he ran another game race when third to Frodon in the Caspian Caviar.
“Fingers crossed he’ll run another good race,” said champion jockey Richard Johnson, who has ridden the gelding in 19 of his 24 starts.
“He still seems in great form and his two runs this year have arguably been career-bests.
“It’s just that this year things are harder for him as he’s much higher in the weights, but you couldn’t crab what he’s done this season.
“If he runs his race again, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t, you’d have to expect him to be there or thereabouts.”
Vaniteux steps up in trip for Nicky Henderson, but the Seven Barrows handler admits he is still in the dark about which distance suits him best.
He was in with a shout of second place in the Arkle last season before unseating at the second-last, and has failed to hit the target in two starts so far this term.
“We’re going back up in trip with him,” said Henderson.
“It is the oft-debated subject and plenty of people have an opinion about it.
“When you run him over two miles you think to yourself he must want two and a half, but when we have run him over further it has looked like he doesn’t stay.
“We’ll give it another go and see.”
Paul Nicholls’ As De Mee finally delivered on his promise in the Grand Sefton at Aintree where he ran out an easy winner, but he has an 8lb rise to overcome.
“It was either come for a nice prize like this or run in a novice chase,” said assistant trainer Harry Derham.
“He’s been in very good form since Aintree and we’re hopeful he’ll run well.”
The Watch Live Racing On BetBright.com Handicap Chase over three and a quarter miles features Henderson’s Vyta Du Roc, who sidestepped a run in the Welsh National earlier in the week.
Anthony Bromley, racing manager for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, said: “He ran very well in the Hennessy and we did consider running in the Welsh Grand National, but I felt Native River was impossible to oppose and that’s how it worked out.
“I couldn’t see how we could turn the tables on Native River, so we decided to wait for this and I think he goes there with a strong chance.”
Cheltenham regular Any Currency has a rare run over regulation fences, while Johnson is on Hobbs’ Lamb Or Cod, a winner last time out .
“He stays well, likes good ground and has won at Cheltenham before so he must have some sort of chance,” said Johnson.
Colin Tizzard’s Pingshou aims to follow up his impressive win at the track last month in the opening Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, in which he comes up against Fergal O’Brien’s Poetic Rhythm and Tom George’s Sumkindofking again, after both finished behind him last time.
Fingal Bay aims to bounce back to something like his best in the BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle.
Johnson can offer no excuses for his early-season displays, but he has been given a chance by the handicapper at last.
“He’s coming down the weights, but that is because he hasn’t shown much so far this season,” said Johnson.
“There’s no doubt that if he does bounce back to something like his best, he looks quite well treated.
“We haven’t ruled fences out totally for him, he just runs in the races that suit him. He’s been in good form at home and if he regains some form he should run well.”
Neil King’s Zeroeshadesofgrey returns to hurdles in the same race having failed to convince over fences.
In the closing EBF Stallions & Cheltenham Pony Club bumper, Johnson teams up with Brian Ellison, who sends down the unbeaten Shearling.
“She’s looked good so far in winning two,” said Johnson.
“She’s a Flat-bred filly so the decent ground should suit her and you’d have to think Brian wouldn’t be bringing her all the way down if he didn’t think she was capable of going close.”
Newmarket mayor John Berry has a rare runner under National Hunt Rules with White Valiant.