WILLOUGHBY Court can begin the new year with an almighty bang by winning the Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham.

Ben Pauling's inmate made boundless progress at Newbury last time out and looks to have an awful lot going for him in this Grade Two over an extended two and a half miles.

Having won the Neptune Novices' Hurdle at the Festival last season, much was expected of him on his chasing debut at Huntingdon in early November.

He won that day, but most certainly did not impress everyone, having shown a worrying tendency to jump markedly to his left.

Little wonder, then, that there were plenty of punters perfectly willing to take him on in a Grade Two at Newbury.

His critics had miscalculated the situation, though, as Willoughby Court was revitalised back on a left-handed track and jumped neatly to account for Yanworth by three lengths.

That was a lovely effort and one which left the impression that there is still a heck of a lot remaining beneath his bonnet.

Willoughby Court must give away weight to the entire field in the Dipper, but he is strong enough and good enough to overcome that particular burden.

He is also a proven soft-ground winner, so the recent wintry spell is unlikely to knock him too severely off his stride.

Old Guard loves it at Cheltenham and can cut loose in the other Grade Two on the card, the Relkeel Hurdle.

The likeable gelding was a little outpaced in the International Hurdle at this track on December 16, but he was not beaten far by the likes of My Tent Or Yours and The New One.

He was also doing his best work late in the piece, so it makes complete sense for Paul Nicholls to step him back up in trip to two and a half miles.

Old Guard rarely lets the side down and should not do so in this instance.

Stablemate Sametegal might also be worth a little interest in a strong Grade Three handicap over an extended two and a half miles.

The Ditcheat resident has done well in two starts this season and turned in an especially reassuring performance when third in the Grand Sefton at Aintree.

Sametegal has happily been left alone by the handicapper and remains just 1lb higher than when he won the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury in March 2016.

Good sport, too, at Musselburgh, where Upsilon Bleu should give us all a dash for our dough in the "Auld Reekie" Handicap Chase.

Pauline Robson's game old boy has once again been in fine fettle this season and was not far off the main players in a super-strong renewal of the Shawbrook Handicap at Ascot last time.

Upsilon Bleu has won before off a mark of 142 and should be trained to the minute in his quest to go one place better in this race than 12 months ago.


CATTERICK: 12.25 Blottos, 1.00 Inniscastle Lad, 1.35 Impulsive Star, 2.10 Kalahari Queen, 2.45 Banny's Lad, 3.20 Panis Angelicus.

CHELTENHAM: 12.15 Onefortheroadtom, 12.50 Southfield Theatre, 1.25 WILLOUGHBY COURT (NAP), 2.00 Sametegal, 2.35 Arthur's Gift, 3.10 Old Guard, 3.45 Skyline.

EXETER: 12.40 Another Crick, 1.15 Billy Hicks, 1.50 Storm Control, 2.25 You Say What, 3.00 Report To Base, 3.35 Lord Bryan, 4.05 Mrs Miggins.

FAKENHAM: 12.45 Ascendant, 1.20 Money For Nothing, 1.55 Artifice Sivola, 2.30 More Than Luck, 3.05 Norse Light, 3.40 Rajapur.

MUSSELBURGH: 12.30 Je Suis Charlie, 1.05 Mirsaale, 1.40 Upsilon Bleu, 2.15 Silver Concorde, 2.50 Benny's Secret, 3.25 Misfits.

SOUTHWELL: 12.05 Watching Spirits, 12.35 Bad Dog, 1.10 Samtu, 1.45 Tilly Trotter, 2.20 Pearl Spectre, 2.55 Mama Africa, 3.30 Mr Coco Bean.

DOUBLE: Willoughby Court and Upsilon Bleu