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Double Ross can defy handicapper at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day

Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day card provides some top class jumping action with four races televised by Channel 4. Whilst there is a disappointing turnout for the feature events, there is no shortage of quality on show.

Annie Power may not be up to the class of stablemate Hurricane Fly just yet but she is a possible for the Champion Hurdle after beating Zarkandar comfortably at Ascot. The pair meet again in the 3.05 with Zarkandar only 4lbs better off at the weights for a five-length beating.

The only other runner is Empire Levant who appears outclassed and may be there to help force the pace for Zarkandar. Willie Mullins is still undecided about Annie Power’s festival target so he may be a little wiser after this race.

Only four runners take part in the novice chase at 1.20 with Oscar Whisky set to renew rivalry with Taquin Du Seuil. Nicky Henderson’s former smart hurdler came out second best that day after being forced to make his own running and has since beaten the useful Wonderful Charm here.

Taquin Du Seuil was a shade disappointing at Sandown when only third to Hinterland over a shorter trip and the form of that race has since been let down by the runner-up Grandouet. It may pay to side with Oscar Whisky who is becoming more efficient over his fences with experience.

December Gold Cup winner Double Ross will be a popular choice in the Fairlawne Handicap Chase at 2.30. He landed quite a gamble when winning at the last meeting here and could be up to defying the 7lbs weights rise with ground conditions certain to be in his favour.

The progressive novice Ballyalton puts his festival credentials to the test in the opener at 12.10. His narrow victory over Garde La Victoire is among the best novice hurdling form around this season but he faces some useful opponents including Royal Regatta and Racing Pulse.

Return Spring can land the staying handicap hurdle for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson at 1.55. He has run two solid races here and his stamina should come into play in the prevailing conditions.

Selections: 12.10 Ballyalton, 12.45 De La Bech, 1.20 Oscar Whisky, 1.55 Return Spring, 2.30 Double Ross, 3.05 Annie Power, 3.40 Lady Buttons