The strongest piece of recent Festival form on offer in Cheltenham's opening race on Saturday belongs to the favourite Singlefarmpayment, who extended his excellent record at the track when running a huge race to finish second in last season's Ultima Handicap Chase. That was an exceptionally polished performance for a novice having just his fifth start over fences, and he forced the winner Un Temps Pour Tout (who'd won the race the previous season) to pull out a near Grade 1-level run to get the better of him. Singlefarmpayment looks set to do even better this season, and his supporters will be encouraged by his yard saddling a winner and a second from three runners at Stratford on Saturday (a few of Tom George's had been shaping as though they'd be better for the run prior to that).
It's hard to argue that there is masses of value to be had in backing Singlefarmpayment at his current price in an ante-post market, however, and there are other pieces of Festival form on offer here, notably from Potters Legend, who made the frame in the Kim Muir last season despite walking through the nineteenth fence. Jumping was an issue with Potters Legend throughout his novice season over fences, and he did look rather rusty in that department again on his reappearance at Chepstow earlier in the month. It was a rusty performance all round for Potters Legend that day, but he wasn't given anything like a hard time by jockey Leighton Aspell, and the overall impression created was that he'd come on for his first start in six months. He'd been more polished in the jumping department on his final start last season at Aintree, and there is no doubt that he is lurking on a good mark if he is able to put it all together.
Dangers to the front pair will come from the likes of Cogry, who was well backed for this race last season before falling at the first fence. Cogry failed to complete on his next three starts, and currently has an 'x' attached to his Timeform rating, but there was nothing wrong with his jumping in Ayr's Scottish Grand National at the end of last season, and he did well to finish second given that he'd been up with the pace throughout. He's only 2 lb higher in the weights here, and is respected, though there would have to be doubts about his return to these stiffer fences.
Cogry is one of a number of entrants set to make their seasonal reappearances, and Robinsfirth also falls into that bracket. He is one of the least exposed in this field with just three chasing starts under his belt, and is probably on a fair mark given how he was going when he unseated two out at Chepstow in January (keeping on in second). He's 2 lb higher in the weights now, but remains capable of better yet. Bells 'N' Banjos has only four chasing starts to his name and is another who falls into that category. He was immediately rejuvenated by Fergal O'Brien last season, winning his first two starts, and was set tough tasks on his final two outings.
Others to mention include Thomas Brown, who is unbeaten in all three of his seasonal reappearances over obstacles, Vinconte du Noyer, who is just 1 lb above the mark he defied in style at Cheltenham's November meeting last season, and Braqueur d'Or, who is race fit after bolting up at Ludlow earlier in the month.
If even half of the current entries show up, this will be very competitive, and while Singlefarmpayment looks a solid enough favourite, the double-figure odds about Potters Legend look a bit too big for a horse who also has rock-solid Festival form to his name, and he looks the bet in the race.
Back Potters Legend for the randoxhealth.com Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on October 28th at 12/1