Local trainer Fergal O’Brien, based not far from Cheltenham Racecourse near Guiting Power in Gloucestershire, is readying a talented squad for The Showcase meeting, which opens the new season at the Home of Jump Racing on Friday and Saturday.
A mix of veteran chasers, novice hurdlers and bumper performers are set to grace the meeting for O’Brien, with the yard set to doubly represented in the opening race of The Showcase, Friday’s £20,000 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (2.00pm) over two miles and five furlongs.
Grageelagh Girl was kept busy during the summer, landing a maiden hurdle at Newton Abbot and a novice event at Stratford in June, both over an extended two and a quarter miles. She finished third at Perth on her latest start over two miles in July and will appreciate the longer distance.
Second to the Paul Nicholls-trained Posh Trishin a Listed Bumper at The November Meeting at Cheltenham in 2017, O’Brien is looking forward to running the seven-year-old mare at Cheltenham on Friday.
He said: “Grageelagh Girl is in good form at home and she will head to Cheltenham on Friday for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
“She won two contests in June and we gave her a break after finishing third at Perth last time.
“She was also placed in a Listed bumper at Cheltenham last season and has done really well for us since joining the yard from Ireland.”
Seven-year-old Lungarno Palace justified odds-on favouritism in a Stratford novice hurdle on October 8 under Alain Cawley, who is set to be in the saddle again on Friday.
O’Brien continued: “Lungarno Palace won well at Stratford last time out and he could also line up in the first race with Grageelagh Girl.”
Lungarno Palace (10s 13lb) is additionally entered in the £15,400 Brandon Hill Handicap Hurdle (3.10pm) on Friday.
Mighty Leader (£25,000 ‘Matchbook Time To Move Over’ Novices’ Chase, 3.45pm) and Bells ‘N’ Banjos (£15,000 Ryman Stationery Cheltenham Business Club Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase, 4.20pm) are also set to run for O’Brien on Friday.
The trainer is due to be well represented on day two of The Showcase, with course specialist Perfect Candidate returning to his favourite venue. The 11-year-old has won three times at the track and finished fifth on Festival Trials Day, in the BetBright Trial Cotswold Chase.
Perfect Candidate, a faller at the first fence in the Grand National at Aintree, will head for the opening £60,000 “Matchbook Betting Exchange” Handicap Chase (2.00pm) over three miles and one furlong in which he has 11st 7lb and is second to top-weight. He finished runner-up in this race in 2015.
O’Brien continued: “Perfect Candidate runs in the opener at Cheltenham on Saturday.
“He loves the place, having won there three times, and hopefully he runs another good race at the weekend.”
Other potential starters on Saturday for the yard include De Name Evades Me. The six-year-old kept on in third behind talented stayer Kilfilum Cross in a novices’ hurdle at Kempton in April – his latest start.
O’Brien revealed: “De Name Evades Me ran well at Kempton on his last start and the plan is to start over three miles at Cheltenham on Saturday.
“The ground will be in his favour and there is hopefully more to come from him.”
The trainer could be double-handed in the final race of the card, the two-mile £15,000 Jockey Club Ownership Syndicate National Hunt Flat Race (5.30pm).
Four-year-old Robyndzone, a winner of his only point-to-point outing at Ballindenisk, Ireland, in May and five-year-old Strong Glance, successful on his debut for the yard in a Southwell National Hunt flat race in November, 2017, before finishing a creditable fifth to the Nick Gifford-trained Didtheyleaveuoutto at in a Listed contest at Ascot in December 2017, are both set to line up.
Discussing the duo, O’Brien remarked: “We have two nice horses to run in the bumper with Robyndzone, who is having his first start for me and Strong Glance who missed the Weatherbys Champion Bumper due to injury.
“Strong Glance ran very well in a decent bumper at Ascot last year and that race looks a nice place to start for him.”
O’Brien revealed he is relishing the return of Jump racing at his local track.
The trainer concluded: “Cheltenham has a unique atmosphere and we can’t wait for the weekend, being a local yard.
“The season takes off from this meeting and there’s a real buzz around. It is going to be quick ground, but that highlights the warm summer we’ve had. Cheltenham will do a great job with the ground and we’ve got horses going there who will like the ground.”