The runners may be thin on the ground, but what the race lacks in quantity it makes up for that in sheer class in today's sportingbet Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter, while racegoers are set for a real treat with some stellar performers appearing in the other races.
Menorah and Cue Card are both in the Haldon Gold Cup line-up at 2.50pm, alongside the Paul Nicholls-trained Edgardo Sol, Venetia Williams' Renard, and Webberys Dream, trained by Jeremy Scott.
Cue Card is a horse who has a formidable record on his first appearance of the season – he is unbeaten and Joe Tizzard, his jockey, has reported his training preparation for the race has gone without a hitch. While plans to step him up in trip are on the agenda, Exeter's stiff track will play to his strengths.
Menorah's chasing debut at the course a year ago ended with Richard Johnson on the deck when he unseated two fences from home, but since that forgettable day for his trainer Philip Hobbs, who also saw Captain Chris come a cropper in the Haldon Gold Cup, things have improved and the seven-year-old collected the Manifesto Novices' Chase at Aintree's Grand National meeting before getting stuck in the mud at the Punchestown Festival two weeks later.
While not quite being top class, Edgardo de Sol is no slouch. Versatile as a chaser or a hurdler, he finished second in the Vincent O'Brian Handicap Hurdle at this year's Festival and went on to score in the matalan.co.uk Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree before he was entered for Ayr's Isle of Skye Blended Whisky Scottish Champion Hurdle, in which he was a well-beaten favourite.
Racing at Exeter kicks off with an informative-looking thebishopjohn.co.uk National Hunt Novices' Hurdle (1.50pm) over two miles, five furlongs, where the six runners include Gas Line Boy, Atlantic Roller, Salmanazar and The Potting Shed.
Gas Line Boy kicked off his British racing career with a win at Wincanton in October in the Bathwick Tyres Salisbury, where he looked impressive when easily defeating the 12-runner field. The ground will hold no fears as he has won a point-to-point on soft turf in Ireland, and he looks every bit a future star, given his performances so far.
Salmanazar, who makes his hurdles debut, beat Victor Dartnall's very highly regarded Menintights in a bumper at Towcester in February, and Atlantic Roller was beaten by another Dartnall horse, Three Old Amigos, at the course in May and is sure to have improved over the summer.
Interestingly, Atlantic Roller is a half-brother to Alberobello, another runner with decent prospects. They are both out of the 1995 Supreme Novices Hurdle winner, Tourist Attraction.
Runners in the Nethway Hotel Torquay and Jay&Kay Coaches Kent Novices' Hurdle include Nicky Henderson's Billy Twyford, the short-head winner of a bumper on firm at Newton Abbot in May, the Nicholls-trained Landscape, who is sure to improve for his run at Cheltenham in October, and Sue Gardner's impressive course-and-distance winner Look For Love.
Five in the Gain Horse Feeds Novices' Chase include Nicholls' Hinterland, who makes his chasing debut. The four-year-old was impressive at Chepstow in October, when he easily won a limited handicap hurdle. Peckhamecho could also run well if his jumping does not let him down.
The Smith & Williamson Handicap Chase over three miles could see Dartnall's Richard's Sundance run well, having had a wind operation over the summer, while the concluding Roaring 20's Christmas Parties Here Handicap Hurdle may see Extremely So get back to winning ways, with Chris Down's team in such good order at the moment.