Cheltenham racecourse, it was announced yesterday, is to be one of the stop-off points for the Olympic torch next May, early in its 70-day, 8,000-mile journey round Britain from Land's End to London. Before that, of course, there will be plenty to light up the Gloucestershire track that has become synonymous with jump racing's best. And with the Flat season's international finale, the Breeders' Cup, now in the form book the focus here is firmly on those who may, even at this early stage, be identified as medal hopes for next year's Festival.
In the past 10 years more than 30 who scored at the early November fixture at Prestbury Park went on to win or make the podium the following March. Most notable among them has been Imperial Commander, who took the Ryanair Chase four months after winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup and progressed to a Gold Cup victory the following year. And of course, Long Run, only third in the two-and-a-half-miler last year, has since taken both the King George VI Chase and Gold Cup.
The Paddy Power Gold Cup is one of the few trophies not in Paul Nicholls' cabinet and, for him, it is surely a contest tinged not only with frustration but sadness. His four runners-up include Poliantas, who collapsed and died after crossing the line and Nicholls' Granit Jack broke his neck when falling two out, looking all over the winner, four years ago.
In Saturday's edition he fields the strong favourite Mon Parrain, for whom hopes this term are much higher than a Grade Three handicap, with Poquelin, runner-up two years ago, as wingman at the top of the handicap. The ex-French Mon Parrain was last seen in action in April, when second at Aintree after winning easily on his British debut, and in public last week, when he joined Kauto Star and Big Buck's for some awayday exercise at Exeter.
"He benefited enormously from that day out," reported Nicholls. "I'd been struggling to get him as fit as I would have liked at home. I rate him highly but he may have to have improved to win off his current mark. Generally, mine have not been well handicapped for this race and it's a hard one to win."
There is not much that Tony McCoy has not achieved, but yesterday's 2.15 at Southwell did provide him with one new experience when he partnered Larks Lad to the first walkover of his 20-year career. The Nicky Henderson-trained gelding was left to complete the formality of a 100-yard trot past the post to collect £2,800 in prize-money after his sole rival was withdrawn.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Cloudy Too (2.00 Sedgefield)
Well-regarded and has innate talent to win if he can put in a clear round.
Renard (3.10 Lingfield)
A high-mettled, free-going type who seemed to appreciate the drop back to two miles when winning last time.
One to watch
The chasing debut of The Engineer (Jessie Harrington) should be keenly anticipated if his warm-up bumper second to a horse who bolted up again on Friday is a guide.
Where the money's going
Pateese, at 8-1, is favourite in Paddy Power's list for Sunday's Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.