Fitz primed for Cheltenham
Mick Winters expects to find out whether Rebel Fitz is capable of mixing it at the highest level at Cheltenham on Friday.
His charge takes on two top-class rivals in the Cheltenham Annual Members Novices' Chase as the home of National Hunt racing opens it's doors for the first time this season.
While only three go to post, Rebel Fitz is opposed by Jonjo O'Neill's Grade One-winning hurdler Taquin De Seuil and Colin Tizzard's Third Intention, who was narrowly beaten in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase last term but as he failed to win over fences, is still a novice.
Rebel Fitz has been the undoubted star of the Irish summer jumping season, rattling off a five-timer and striking up a good partnership with Barry Geraghty in the process.
"We should have a good idea of whether he's Grade One material or not after this," said Winters.
"There might only be three runners but all look top-class. I wouldn't know how the ratings will work out in a race like this, though.
"It's his first time travelling which was a worry but he's settled in nicely. We just left him in an open field after his last run as he was so well.
"We won't be making excuses if he's beaten, the ground should be perfect as I was concerned earlier in the week it would be too fast but they've had a bit of rain.
"He's giving the others weight but he's very fit and I can't see any reason why he won't keep performing.
"It's an interesting race but his jumping has been so good I'm sure there'll be plenty of excitement tomorrow. After this he'll have a break."
Also on the card is the first Pertemps Qualifier of the new season.
The rules have changed this year in that to qualify for the Final horses must finish in the first eight of a qualifier, rather than just be declared to run in one.
Heading the field is Emma Lavelle's Captain Sunshine who was second in the Final in March but his handler hopes he will prove too good to run in this season's race.
"This is a nice starting point but in an ideal world it's hopefully a step towards him running in graded races," said Lavelle.
"He finds it quite hard in handicaps as he needs to be led in at the start and he can throw a few lengths away which makes it very difficult for him. In graded races the fields are smaller and he wouldn't be losing as much ground.
"The Pertemps Final could be his aim again but I'm hoping he might be a bit better than that.
"After last year when the horses were wrong he could either be thrown in off 140 or that's as good as he is, we'll find out tomorrow."
Cross Kennon, seventh in the World Hurdle, smart chaser Rare Bob and Restless Harry are in the 20-runner field.
The opening contest, the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, looks an informative affair with Nigel Twiston-Davies' Pure Science boasting Festival form having finished sixth in the Champion Bumper.
"I thought his progress was good last season and he ran a very nice race at The Festival, so that was good, but the ground was a bit too firm for him at Ayr," said Twiston-Davies.
"He has done well over the summer and has been schooling and working nicely, so we will see how he gets on."
Taking him on are Donald McCain's Clondaw Draft, already twice a winner over hurdles, Rebecca Curtis' Cloud Brook, a 10-length winner of his only bumper, Paul Nicholls' Saint Roque and Jonjo O'Neill's Rum And Butter.
Twiston-Davies' The New One took the corresponding race 12 months ago.