Paisley Park, Santini and Bristol de Mai are among a host of stars in action at Cheltenham on Saturday, as the Home of Jump Racing stages its final fixture before The Festival™ presented by Magners in March.
Festival Trials Day was an excellent pointer to The Festival in 2019 - Frodon, Paisley Park and Siruh Du Lac all followed up their Festival Trials Day triumphs with success at The Festival, taking the G1 Ryanair Chase, G1 Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle and G3 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase respectively.
Santini and Bristol De Mai will aim to lay down a marker for the G1 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup in the centrepiece of tomorrow's seven-race card, the £100,000 G2 Paddy Power Cotswold Chase (2.25pm, 3m 1f 56y, six runners).
Santini (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville), the 6/4 favourite with Paddy Power, was a battling second in last season's G1 RSA Insurance Novices' Chase and made a successful comeback in an intermediate chase at Sandown Park in November. Cyfor Malta in 1999 is the most recent favourite to win the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase.
Multiple G1 victor Bristol De Mai (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Daryl Jacob), who finished third in the 2019 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup, lost nothing in defeat on his sole start this season when going down narrowly to Lostintranslation in the G1 Betfair Chase at Haydock Park in late November.
Colin Tizzard almost won the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase with a novice in 2017, when Thistlecrack was edged out by Many Clouds, and the trainer is aiming to go one better with Slate House (Robbie Power).
Second season novice Slate House has been in fine form, with his only defeat this term coming in the G3 BetVictor Gold Cup at The November Meeting, when he fell at the second last with the race seemingly at his mercy.
The eight-year-old, a three-time winner at Cheltenham, gained his first G1 victory last time out with a smooth success in the three-mile Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, said: "We were delighted with Slate House in the Kauto Star and he came out of it very well.
"We have decided to take our chance in the Cotswold because he has a good record at the track.
"This is his second season over fences and the Cotswold will be a good test on the back of an impressive performance at Kempton.
"He jumps and travels, and hopefully he has a good chance."
The six runners in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase also include G3 Ladbrokes Trophy victor De Rasher Counter (Emma Lavelle/Adam Wedge) and Top Ville Ben (Phil Kirby/Tommy Dowson), an impressive winner of the G3 Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase at Wetherby on his latest start.
Mister Whitaker (Mick Channon/Johnny Burke), who landed the Listed Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at The Festival in 2018, completes the field.
Paddy Power Cotswold Chase - Paddy Power prices: 6/4 Santini; 9/4 Bristol de Mai; 6/1 Slate House; 15/2 De Rasher Counter, Top Ville Ben; 16/1 Mister Whitaker
All eyes will be on Paisley Park (Emma Lavelle/Aidan Coleman) in the £60,000 G2 galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle (3.35pm, eight runners) over three miles.
Paisley Park was imperious in this contest 12 months ago, scoring by 12 lengths under a penalty, and crowned an unbeaten campaign soon afterwards in the G1 Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle at The Festival. The eight-year-old extended his winning streak to six in the G2 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November.
Saturday's task looks set to be on his stiffest to date, with If The Cap Fits (Harry Fry/Sean Bowen) and L'Ami Serge (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob), respective winners of the G1 Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle and G1 Betway Aintree Hurdle at Aintree's Randox Health Grand National last season, among the opposition.
The three other graded contests on Festival Trials Day include the £32,000 G2 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (3.00pm, eight runners) over an extended two and a half miles.
House Island (Gavin Sheehan) has already acquitted himself well in G2 company this season, going down by three quarters of a length to Enrillo in the G2 Ballymore Winter Novices' Hurdle at Sandown Park on 6 December.
Trainer Paul Webber said: "House Island ran well at Sandown and we have purposely kept him fresh for this.
"We want to test him at Cheltenham to see if he handles the track and whether he is good enough to contest a race at The Festival.
"We don't have as many horses as we used to, so it is great to have a horse with a live chance on a Saturday.
"He is a nice horse and will make a chaser in the future, but I hope he can put in a good performance tomorrow."
King Roland (Harry Fry/Sean Bowen), who was unbeaten in bumpers last season, is likely to go off favourite after bolting up in a maiden hurdle at Exeter on 1 January.
Protektorat (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton), successful over the course and distance on New Year's Day, and Irish raider Rocket Lad (Emmet Mullins IRE/Brian Hayes) also run.
The feature handicap on the card is the £70,000 G3 Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase (1.50pm, 10 runners) over an extended two and a half miles.
G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup victor Warthog (David Pipe/David Noonan) and the consistent Highway One O One (Chris Gordon/Jamie Moore) are the 4/1 joint-favourites with Paddy Power.
Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase - Paddy Power prices: 4/1 Highway One O One, Warthog; 9/2 Spiritofthegames; 5/1 Lalor; 15/2 My Way; 9/1 Cepage, Count Meribel; 14/1 Militarian, Garde La Victoire; 20/1 Cool Mix
Completing the action is the opening £32,000 G2 JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (12.40pm, 2m 179y, six runners), which sees the UK debut of French import Monte Cristo (Nicky Henderson/Daryl Jacob), the £27,500 Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase (1.15pm, 2m 4f 127y, 12 runners) and the concluding £27,500 Steel Place And Sections Handicap Hurdle (4.10pm, 2m 179y, 12 runners).
The going at Cheltenham is Soft, with a dry but cloudy forecast for Saturday.