Brian Ellison is expecting a bold showing from Windsor Avenue in Saturday’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
A dual winner in the bumper sphere and over hurdles, the eight-year-old looked an exciting addition to the chasing ranks last season when impressing in his first two starts at Sedgefield and Carlisle.
He subsequently proved no match for Sam Spinner when chasing the hat-trick at Doncaster, and fell in another Grade Two at Haydock.
However, having undergone wind surgery during the summer, Windsor Avenue made a promising start to the new campaign when runner-up to subsequent Ascot winner Imperial Aura in last month’s Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle.
“He’s come on for Carlisle, I’m really happy with him and the ground doesn’t matter to him,” said Ellison.
“I’ve always thought he was a nice horse. He won his bumpers and novice hurdles and even his hurdles form is quite good – he was second to Rouge Vif one day at Kelso.
“He started off well over fences before things went wrong, but we found out what the problem was and Carlisle was his first run back.
“Looking at the betting, it looks like he’s got a big chance on Saturday.”
The Evan Williams-trained Coole Cody made much of the running in last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup – and bids to become only the fourth horse to win the two major handicaps in the same season after Pegwell Bay (1988), Senor El Betrutti (1997) and Exotic Dancer (2006).
“The way I look at it, he’s won his race. I do think we’re guilty in this sport of always looking for the next race, instead of just putting your foot on the ball and saying ‘he’s won a Paddy Power Gold Cup, for goodness sake’,” said Williams.
“As far as I’m concerned, everything after that last day is a bonus. There are a handful of races that have got that little bit of something about them and the Paddy Power is one of those, and we’ve managed to win one.
“Whatever Coole Cody does for the rest of his life, he’ll always have a special place in my heart, that’s for sure.”
Top-weight Master Tommytucker is one of three runners for Paul Nicholls, who is bidding for a record sixth victory in the race.
The Ditcheat handler, who also saddles Saint Sonnet and Southfield Stone, told Betfair: “I’m thrilled by the progress Master Tommytucker has had this season after some frustrating issues with his jumping in the past.
“While he was impressive last time at Haydock and will love the soft ground if it rains, this is the first time he has run in a really competitive race with a big field of runners, but he is ready to do so. He is in top order at the moment.
“I was expecting a big run from Saint Sonnet in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but he virtually cut out three from home on desperate ground and was a tired horse when he came down at the last fence.
“It looked very much that he either needed the race more than I thought or didn’t get the trip. On better ground on the New Course, I am hoping for much better – wearing a tongue tie for the first time.
“Southfield Stone loves it round Cheltenham. Although he is a big outsider, he is a consistent racehorse and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him outrun his odds.”
Alex Hales has high hopes for Huntsman Son following an impressive Listed success at Wetherby in October.
He said: “I thought he was very impressive at Wetherby and the handicapper thought the same.
“We’ve been very happy with him since. I suppose the only proviso is he wouldn’t want the ground to go too soft.
“He’s come back from Wetherby as good as ever and I’m really looking forward to running him.”
Irish hopes are carried by the Mick Winters-trained Chatham Street Lad. The last Irish challenger to win this prize was Edward O’Grady’s Go Roger Go in 2000.
“He’s in great form, but we could do with a drop of rain for Saturday,” said Winters.
“As long as there is ease in the ground and the horse comes home safe, that is what matters. We are looking forward to the challenge.
“I wouldn’t know all the form, but all the high-profile trainers have horses in it. There appears to be a lot of horses on the way up and maybe some going downhill.
“Our fella is in great form, he has a grand weight and it’s nice to be heading to Cheltenham. If he runs an honourable race, it would be great.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Paddy Power Gold Cup third Al Dancer, the Venetia Williams-trained Cepage and Romain De Senam from Dan Skelton’s yard are other contenders in a fiercely competitive affair.
Skelton said: “He has got a nice weight and I don’t think the rain will be too much of an issue as it is a fresh track.
“I think he has got a little each-way chance.”