Paul Nolan sends a squad of three to Cheltenham this weekend for The Open, which kicks off tomorrow, Friday, November 11, and the Irish handler has runners in the first two races.
French Accordion, a full-brother to stable star Accordion Etoile who is also set to run at The Open, has won his last two starts, both at Tipperary, and runs in the opening £30,000 Grade Two Anglo Irish Bank Novices' Hurdle (1.15pm) over an extended two miles, the first of six key trials sponsored by Anglo Irish Bank leading up to the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices' Hurdle at The Festival next March.
Nolan reported "French Accordion seems in good form, he's wrong with a few horses in the race on official ratings, but rather than be out of the handicap in the Greatwood Hurdle I'd prefer to be wrong with two or three in the novice hurdle.
"It's a small but select field and looks a good race. I don't normally like running a horse that is officially wrong with other horses but his ground has gone in Ireland - it's too heavy - and I don't want to step him up in trip, so I'll take my chances in the novice race.
"His form on soft behind Satoha, L'Antartique and Publican at Leopardstown in January is very solid. Although he looks like he wants more than two miles, the Cheltenham hill and the ease in the ground should suit my horse perfectly. He jumps well and seems to have travelled over in fine fettle and I'm hoping he'll finish in the frame."
In the following £15,000 added paddypower.com Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase (1.50pm) over an extended three miles, Nolan will be represented by the promising novice Dix Villez.
Two runs over fences have yielded a win at Galway in July over two miles and six furlongs and a third place last time at Tralee over two and a half miles on August 24, and the County Wexford-handler is not unduly concerned about his charge's lack of chasing experience.
Nolan revealed: "Although Dix Villez has only run twice over fences he has won two point-to-points over three miles, and he's been well-schooled so it shouldn't be factor. He seems to jump well enough. He is six pounds higher over here which is based on races that haven't turned out well, so we have a bit to make up.
"Aidan Fitzgerald rides him and he has lost his claim as an amateur. It looks like some of the other runners will be claimed off, but he's in good from and been allotted a nice racing weight. He came over on a lovely crossing, looks like he wants a trip and we'll let him take his chance."
Accordion Etoile, who won the Greatwood Hurdle at The Open in 2004, completes Nolan's trio and runs in the two-mile £40,000 Grade Two Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase (2.05pm), on Sunday, November 13.
On his only outing over fences at Limerick on October 9 over two miles and a furlong on yielding to soft ground, he finished two and a half lengths second to the more experienced Watson Lake, despite making a bad mistake at the second-last fence, and a bold bid is expected on ground that will be more suitable.
Nolan continued: "Accordion Etoile in good form. He's only a young horse and I hope he learns from the mistakes he made at Limerick - if he makes those kind of mistakes at Cheltenham he won't get away with it!
"He's schooled well at home since but you don't know what will happen until you go to the track. It's only the start of his chasing career and hopefully he'll put in a safe round of jumping.
"The ground should be fine for him - if it was like this in Ireland it would definitely not be described as soft in any way, and I think the forecast after today is very good, so he definitely runs.
"He's one of the highest rated horses to switch to fences, a decision we made because of the lack of opportunities on decent ground in Ireland. He can't cope with the likes of Solerina, Macs Joy and Brave Inca who like the soft ground - we're about 20 lengths behind them on that going, and I'd only be beating my head against a wall trying to be competitive with them in Ireland!"
"I was going to need to travel with him to get the ground he needs over hurdles so that's why he's gone over fences. I hope he can reach his hurdle mark over fences - if he can he'll certainly win races, hopefully starting on Sunday!"
Drying conditions have changed the going at Cheltenham.
The current going is:
GOOD TO SOFT - Chase and Hurdles Course.
GOOD, GOOD TO SOFT IN PLACES - Cross Country Course.
Some light rain is forecast tonight.
Train disruption this weekend will affect the service on both Saturday, November 12 and Sunday, November 13 between Reading and Bristol for those travelling to Cheltenham.
Travellers from Paddington should alight at Reading and then take a bus to Swindon, where a normal train service to Cheltenham will be in operation. Alternatively, travel on the Paddington to South Wales train and change at Newport, where a Virgin train service (three trains per hour) will run to Cheltenham.
Also on Saturday, November 12, the line is closed between Bristol and Gloucester. Travellers from Bristol should take a Virgin train to Newport and then a Virgin train to Cheltenham.
There are no problems reported for Friday, November 11.
SIR PETER O'SULLEVAN IN ARKLE BOOKSHOP
Sir Peter O'Sullevan will be on hand in the Arkle Bookshop on Friday and Saturday to sign copies of his book - "Peter O'Sullevan's Horse Racing Heroes."
Tickets will be available on the gates for all three days of The Open.
Friday/Sunday admission prices are Club/Tattersalls: £20 (16-24s: £12); Best Mate £8.
Saturday's admission prices are Club: £30 (16-24s £20); Tattersalls: £20: Tattersalls seat: £15; Best Mate £10.