Flooring Porter is the star attraction at Cheltenham on Saturday as the dual Stayers’ Hurdle winner returns to the Cotswolds to make his debut over fences.
Gavin Cromwell’s stable star produced two tremendous front-running performances to lift the three-mile hurdling crown in 2021 and 2022, but could finish only fourth when bidding for the hat-trick in March.
The eight-year-old subsequently finished third at Aintree before failing to make an impact in the French Champion Hurdle, and Cromwell feels the time has come to switch to the larger obstacles.
“He’s jumped well at home so hopefully he can transfer that to the track,” he said.
“He was running well last season, but he didn’t win at all and we just thought he still had a bit of time on his side and he can always go back (over hurdles) if it doesn’t work out for him over fences.”
Flooring Porter will be a warm order to dispatch of three rivals in the William Hill Lengthen Your Odds Novices’ Chase, with Henry de Bromhead’s Toss Again and the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained pair of Weveallbeencaught and Broadway Boy taking him on.
Cromwell added: “It’s a small field, but it’s not a bad race and while I won’t say he has to put his best foot forward, he’ll have to be doing things right to be winning.”
Proceedings get under way with the £60,000 Epic Value At William Hill Handicap Chase, in which Laura Morgan saddles the top-weight Notlongtillmay.
The seven-year-old enjoyed an excellent novice campaign over fences last term, winning his first three races before finishing second to Stage Star in the Turners Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Other contenders for the two-mile contest include Gary Moore’s Haddex Des Obeaux, Emma Lavelle’s Red Rookie and course-and-distance winner Before Midnight, who made an encouraging debut for Fergal O’Brien when fourth over hurdles at Chepstow a fortnight ago.
“I was very impressed with him at Chepstow – I didn’t expect him to run as well as he did,” said O’Brien.
“He does have form on soft and heavy ground from a long time ago, but I expected him to need it a bit, maybe finish fifth or sixth and come on for the run, but he was actually bang there turning in.
“He probably ended up having a harder race than we hoped for, but he’s come out of that very well, he seems very well in himself and Ben Sutton came in and schooled him on Thursday morning and he jumped very well, so we’ll take our chance.”
Tiger Roll (2014), Sceau Royal (2016), I Like To Move It (2021) and Pied Piper (2022) are among the recent winners of the Masterson Holdings Hurdle and another intriguing renewal looks in store.
Blueking D’Oroux and Spirit D’Aunou are the top two in the market for Paul Nicholls and Gary Moore respectively, while Lucinda Russell sends recent Kelso scorer Bois Guillbert from Scotland.
She said: “He took in those junior hurdles last year which are a great initiative and it taught him so much. He won two of them, he ended up with a mark of 116 and he’s won off that mark at Kelso this season, so they’re being realistic about their marks.
“He’s still a novice, which is great, and we’re running him in a four-year-old conditions race here. It’s a huge step up in grade, but I think it’s worthwhile doing that with him and it will give us an idea about what we do next.”
Last year’s winner Lord Accord bids for back-to-back victories in the Epic Jumps Season At William Hill Handicap Chase, while Noel Meade’s Bugs Moran, the Willie Mullins-trained We’llhavewan and Ringdufferin and Gortmillish from Gordon Elliott’s yard lead a strong Irish contingent in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle.
Cromwell houses the hot favourite for the William Hill Epic Weekend Free Bet Novices’ Hurdle in Antrim Coast, who impressed when opening his account over obstacles at Punchestown last time out.
Cromwell said: “He’s a nice horse and he put up a nice performance in Punchestown the last day.
“Obviously we’re stepping up a bit further in trip, but we’re chasing a bit of nice ground and if he takes a step forward, he definitely has a good chance.”
The Cheltenham & South West Racing Club Open National Hunt Flat Race brings the Showcase meeting to a close and there are plenty of interesting protagonists, including Kim Bailey’s Huntingdon scorer The Kemble Brewery, Ben Brookhouse’s point-to-point recruit Martin Plage and Mullins-trained newcomer Catch Yourself On.