Illustrious roll of honour awaits Fingal Bay in opener

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Cheltenham’s three-day Paddy Power meeting kicks off in style today, with Fingal Bay set to add his name to an illustrious roll of honour in the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase.

Denman, Imperial Commander, Time For Rupert and Grands Crus have all taken this two-and-a-half-mile test in the last decade and the most likely victor this time around is Philip Hobbs’s inmate.

The six-year-old was unbeaten in his first four starts over hurdles last term, but missed the Cheltenham Festival due to injury and suffered his first defeat at Aintree in April.

However, chasing was always going to be his game and having impressed on his introduction at Chepstow, he should continue his progress at Prestbury Park.

The Paul Nicholls-trained Dodging Bullets looked much improved when winning here in October and is going to take plenty of beating in the Opus Energy Novices’ Hurdle.

The four-year-old showed decent form as a juvenile, notably finishing fourth in the Triumph Hurdle, but failed to get his head in front.

That may have been a blessing in disguise, however, as he is a stronger horse now and his novice status remains intact for the current campaign.

Having bolted up by eight lengths a month ago, he is expected to go right to the top in this sphere.

Sizing Australia should turn in another good effort round the cross-country circuit in the Glenfarclas Chase.

Grands Crus is 9-4 favourite with the sponsors after a field of 20 was declared for tomorrow’s Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.

David Pipe’s bold jumping grey is on a retrieval mission in the first major handicap of the new National Hunt season. He appeared to have the world at his feet when winning the Feltham Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day in a quicker time than that which Kauto Star won the King George.

Yet he was only seen once more, when finishing an 18-length fourth to Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase at the Festival in March.

Grands Crus enjoyed a breeze up Pipe’s gallops yesterday morning and the trainer tweeted: “Gerry Supple worked Grands Crus this morning and he went well...he says only two sleepless nights left!”

With Paul Nicholls saddling Poquelin for the third year running it means Casey Top, Finger Onthe Pulse, Questions Answered and Gilbarry are running from out of the handicap. Henry Daly’s Kingsmere, however, is running off his correct weight with just 10st.

The seven-year-old looked like playing a huge part in the finish of a hot novice chase at the last meeting as he was in front when he fell two out.

“I honestly don’t know if Kingsmere would have won but he was running a very good race. You couldn’t tell, but he would have definitely been there or thereabouts,” said Daly.