As the weather changes and the days get shorter, it is not all doom and gloom for racing fans with the National Hunt season sure to bring the heat this winter. Some of Britain's best loved horses will be making their return to the jumps in some intriguing contests. But who will be make the headlines this season?
Bristol De Mai sets standard in Betfair Chase
The Betfair Chase at Haydock on 21 November is often seen as one of the earliest Cheltenham Gold Cup trials while also being the first chance to see some of the big names from the powerhouse stables.
Bristol De Mai always sets the standard on his home patch winning this race in 2017 and 2018. However, last year the progressive Lostintranslation, spoiled the party denying the hat-trick bid for the nine-year-old grey. Lostintranslation is likely to try and defend his crown again but will need to continue to improve his form from last season.
Santini has always shown he has plenty of stamina and ran a career best to finish second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, beating Lostintranslation and Bristol De Mai. This could be his seasonal opener, but after his narrow success at Sandown on his return last year, the son of Milan might prove to be vulnerable first time out in better company.
Altior is back but Nicholls could hold ace for Betfair Tingle Creek
National Hunt fans will be eagerly awaiting for the return of Altior in The Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on 5 December.
Things didn't quite go to plan last season for the dual Champion Chase winner when he was defeated by Cyrname, whilst trying to attempt a King George mission. Nevertheless, Altior's unique turn of foot returned at Newbury with his cosy success in the Game Spirit Chase. If Altior can retain his superstar ability, he will continue to be a major force in the two-mile division.
Elsewhere, Defi Du Seuil was one of the stars of the last season winning the Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chase. Despite his impressive performances, he was unable to take advantage of the depleted five runner field in the Champion Chase, as an odds-on favourite. The two-time Cheltenham Festival winner will have questions to answer this season and perhaps needs to go back up in trip to find his star quality.
Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls could hold the ace up his sleeve for The Tingle Creek with the reigning Champion Chase holder, Politologue.
Nicholls is the leading trainer in the history of the race, winning on ten occasions including with Politologue in 2017. The nine-year-old grey has a fine record fresh and should not be underestimated with him likely to be primed for the day.
The crown jewel this Winter will be the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. Once again, Nicholls will be sure to field a strong team with his number one hope most likely to be the hat-trick seeking, Clan Des Obeaux. Last year, the son of Kapgarde, seemed to be the forgotten horse in the race with stablemate Cyrname proving popular amongst punters. Nevertheless, Clan Des Obeaux was able to remind us of his class with an emphatic wide margin success. This will certainly be his number one target this season.
On the other hand, there could be a surprise package lurking in the Nicholls stable in the form of Real Steel. This new recruit has come across the Irish Sea as part of the Sullivan Bloodstock team from Willie Mullins.
Real Steel held some strong form in Ireland, particularly on right handed tracks. His sixth place effort in the Cheltenham Gold Cup was eye-catching as he travelled into the race very strongly. If the seven-year-old can build on that performance, the nature of the course at Kempton could be tailormade for him, with a trainer who has an outstanding record in the race.
Henderson's Champ could challenge Nicholls' team
Champ will be on the shortlist for many this season as a horse to follow. After his thrilling win in the RSA at the Cheltenham Festival, he showed a determined attitude to win beating Minella Indo and Allaho.
No plan has been revealed as of yet by Nicky Henderson for his campaign, but his path will surely lead to the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Therefore the King George at Kempton could well be on the agenda and with his progressive profile he could be a massive danger to the Nicholls team.
The next few months will provide many memorable moments for fans as old rivalries are renewed in some of this winter's best racing. There will be plenty of potential Cheltenham Festival 2021 clues on offer.