It’s the Autumn Festival at Cheltenham ominously starting on Friday 13th but the National Hunt season is well and truly under way with some big guns out this weekend including double Grand National winner Tiger Roll among the stars to be seen on the Prestbury Park track.

With Atlantic storms heading across from the west there are ground concerns for all trainers and connections so particular is this Gloucestershire home of National Hunt racing. The importance of this meeting in the run up to the grand finale of the season, the Cheltenham Festival in March cannot be underestimated despite that feast being a full four months away so here we look at some of the key players over the next three days.

The highlight on Friday has to be the rematch between Grand National two time winner Tiger Roll and the unbeaten David Cottin trained Easyland in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.

Bought up by one JP McManus before the corresponding race at the Cheltenham Festival earlier in the year, Easyland not only holds the upper hand with a 17 length lesson served up to Tiger Roll over this Course & Distance in March but now faces up to his older rival on 4lb better terms so looks hard to oppose for a repeat win.

That master of ownership , JP McManus has also been busy in Goffs November Sales snapping up a full brother to Douvan, Jonbon, for a record fee for a point-point horse. The Closutton maestro, Willie Mullins has nurtured Douvan to fifteen wins from just nineteen career starts including eight at Grade 1 level and Jonbon’s debut on a racetrack is eagerly awaited.

On Saturday, look out for Harry Whittington’s Simply The Betts in the Paddy Power Gold Cup Handicap Chase who seems to like it around here after consecutive wins under the cover of Cleeve Hill in a novices chase last January before the Grade 1 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase at the Festival returning here in March.

In a hot looking renewal look out for Kerry Lee’s re-opposing Happy Diva and Nicky Henderson’s highly rated Mister Fisher. Nigel Twiston-Davies Al Dancer is one on the up in the chasing game and goes into the shortlist along with David Pipe’s Siruh Du Lac who has had a couple of good wins here and returns following wind surgery.

The Shloer Chase is the feature on Sunday and with the storm clouds building up over the first two days of the three day autumn meeting trainer Philip Hobbs has his eye on the Goingstick so that stable star Defi Du Seuil can restore his reputation after an unexpected defeat in the Queen Mother Champion Chase here in March when sent off a long odds on favourite.

However, Defi Du Seuil took this prize last year beating the top class Politologue on soft ground so has to be favoured to defend the crown with the expected rain certain to have softened things up for him, so to say.

Henry de Bromhead has got his stable in tip top form at the start of National Hunt racing proper and does have a worthy adversary in Put The Kettle On who also gets a notable 10lb pull in the weights. A surprise winner of the Arkle Novices’ Chase back here in March it remains to be seen whether the County Waterford trainer has his charge anywhere near the boil for Sunday’s showpiece.

This preview has been brought to you by our regular correspondent, Hector Steiff

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