RACING: Monbeg Dude to begin campaign at Cheltenham on Saturday
7:21pm Monday 14th October 2013 in Sport
RACING returns to Cheltenham this weekend with the two-day Showcase meeting.
If the emphasis on Friday favours promising young performers who should pay to follow over the coming months, Saturday's card could see the return of established Festival heroes like Oiseau De Nuit, Finger Onthe Pulse and Balthazar King.
Oiseau De Nuit, successful in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual in 2011, heads 22 entries for the Equus-Fine Dining At The Festival Handicap Chase (2.35).
The contest could also feature last season's Byrne Group Plate runner-up Vino Griego, Tanks For That and French import Vif Argent, who may make his debut for David Pipe.
Michael Scudamore is hoping for rain for his stable star Monbeg Dude, owned by a syndicate of past and present Gloucester rugby players.
The eight-year-old holds entries in both the £50,000 Showcase Trophy (3.45) and the £10,000 Jools Holland Here On 9th November Novices' Hurdle (2.00).
Monbeg Dude captured the Murphy Group Handicap Chase at The Open last year before going on to take the Welsh National following a thrilling battle with Teaforthree.
Scudamore reported: "The intention is for Monbeg Dude to run at Cheltenham, but I haven't decided which option he will take up. Hopefully, there will be a bit more rain this week as the softer, the better for him.
"He has done really well over the summer – he has strengthened up and looks like he has come on a little bit – and we are really pleased with him.
"We gave him an entry in a novices' hurdle because he seems ready to run and there is little in terms of staying chasing opportunities at this time of the season. We can make use of the fact that he is a novice and build his season from there.
"The whole season will be geared around the Welsh National again. If everything went fine there and he jumped well, then we would have a look at Aintree, if everybody is happy."
A total of 22 entries for the Showcase Trophy also includes the 2012 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase scorer Balthazar King.
The New One last season captured Friday's opening race, the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle (2.10), before returning to win the Grade One bearing the same name at The Festival in March.
Among the entries this year for Friday's race are a pair of contenders from The New One's trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, headed by Pure Science, who was sixth in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at The Festival last season.
Following a record 14 Irish-trained winners at The Festival in March, County Cork-based handler Michael Winters will be aiming to continue Ireland's superb record at the home of jump racing with Rebel Fitz, who features in 14 entries for the £20,000 Cheltenham Annual Members Novices' Chase (2.40).
The 2012 Galway Hurdle winner has already established himself as a leading contender for top honours this season with five wins over fences, most recently when sauntering to victory in a Grade Three Like A Butterfly Novice Chase at Tipperary on October 6.
Winters revealed: "Rebel Fitz will travel over at the start of the week and will run at Cheltenham, providing the ground is not too fast.
"He has come out of Tipperary in strapping form. Jockey Barry Geraghty came back and said that he could have gone round again, so he really had no race at all.
"It is exciting for the owner to have a runner at Cheltenham and there is always a bit of rivalry between England and Ireland. If everything goes right this season, we can hopefully bring him back for The Festival in March."
The Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (3.15) represents the first of 20 qualifiers for the £80,000 Pertemps Final at The Festival, with 27 entries including Rare Bob, who was fifth in the Grand National in April.
Paul Nicholls has won three of the past seven renewals of the Ryman Stationery Cheltenham Business Club Novices' Chase (3.50) and his Oscargo features among 16 entries for the extended three-mile contest.
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