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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Four things to look out for as the International meeting begins

Western Ryder (orange): lines up in Cheltenham's opener on Friday
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Mark Scully picks out the key elements of the opening four contests at Cheltenham on Friday

Don't miss the opener

The International meeting kicks off with a bang courtesy of a 2m1f novice hurdle (12.10) that has served up no shortage of high-class winners in recent years.

Pingshou went on to Grade 1 glory at Aintree having won this 12 months ago, while the likes of North Hill Harvey, Ballyalton, Melodic Rendezvous and the ill-fated Darlan also take pride of place on the roll of honour.

For good measure, Al Ferof, who landed a red-hot Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2011, fell with this race at his mercy the previous year.

The Warren Greatrex-trained Western Ryder, fifth in the Champion Bumper last year and a winner at Chepstow last time, features among the ante-post betting for this season's Sky Bet Supreme, along with the likes of Summerville Boy and Lalor.

Will any of Friday's eight runners be able to stake a claim for March's festival opener?

Has he been doing his homework?

Sizing Tennessee has another chance to prove he has the jumping ability to match his engine in the 3m1½f novice chase (12.45).

Like the opener, this race also boasts an impressive list of recent winners with the new Grand National favourite Blaklion taking home the first-place prize-money a couple of years ago.

For Sizing Tennessee, though, it is all about a clear round. He fell when looking like winning here two starts ago before giving Bryan Cooper, who retains the ride, no chance when unseating him early on at Ascot last time.

He faces three rivals here, including Duel At Dawn, a winner at Exeter last time, who looks a potential candidate for the four-miler back here in the spring.

Tough task for hat-trick seeker

There will not be many shouting on Robert Walford's runner in the 2m1f handicap hurdle (1.20) – but not because nobody is going to back her.

Smaoineamh Alainn, something of a commentator's nightmare, has won both her starts for Walford since switching to his yard earlier this year, most recently at Wincanton at the end of October.

She bids for the hat-trick here but Walford has concerns about how the form of her last victory is working out.

"She's in very good form but the Wincanton race hasn't really worked out that well, so I don't know whether she's well handicapped or not," he said. "On what the horse in second has done she's very badly handicapped, but we'll see what happens.

"We're putting her in at the deep end a little bit but I think she deserves her chance and, if it doesn't work out, we can always drop her in class a little bit."

Lalor: one of two chances for Richard Woollacott

Woollacott out to break duck

Richard Woollacott, who a fortnight ago enjoyed his biggest career victory when Beer Goggles toppled Unowhatimeanharry, Thistlecrack and co at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle, will have hopes of breaking his Cheltenham duck via Lalor in the opener and Sheer Poetry in the 2m5f mares' handicap chase (1.55).

The trainer has saddled 18 runners at the track without success but the consistent Sheer Poetry keeps defying her big odds and ran well here last time to be third in a 19-runner contest.

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Will any of Friday's eight runners be able to stake a claim for March's festival opener?

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