RECENT rain means the ground is, quite literally, coming good for Chepstow’s Jump Season Opener meeting on Saturday and Sunday.

The standard of entries this year is excellent and all the leading trainers and jockeys are likely to be present.

The experience of previous years indicates that there are sure to be some stars of the future on display.

Richard Johnson, the new leader in the National Hunt jockeys’ title race, said: “We look forward massively to a weekend like this.

"The two day meeting here really kicks off the start of the season. With the rain we’re having, and more showers during the week, the ground should be perfect by the weekend.”

Johnson won’t be eligible to ride in the first event on Saturday, which is a charity race on the flat for former jump jockeys. Recent retirees include Timmy Murphy, Andrew Thornton and Sam Thomas, but one of the golden oldies they’ll have to beat is Graham Bradley, who has tasted success in this race before and is still as stylish as when he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Bregawn in 1983.

Ron Harris’ sprinting pair Under The Covers and Just Glamorous came in fifth and sixth in Ascot’s Rous Stakes on Saturday. They were no match for the rapidly improving filly, Intense Romance, who appreciated the change in the going from the advertised good to firm to soft.

Harris had better luck with Fantasy Justifier, who won at Wolverhampton on Friday evening. That was by two and a half lengths, which is a big margin for a six furlong sprint. The seven-year-old came back to form with a Chepstow win in August and two second places since then. Each time he’s won it’s been a matter of sitting off a strong pace and running on at the end to lead inside the final furlong – tactics that are easier said than done. The horse has to be in the right frame of mind and the gaps have to come. David Probert was the jockey on board for both of those victories.

Lihou ran extremely well for David Evans in a £150,000 sales race at Newmarket, in which he’d been entered fully six months ago. He led inside the final furlong but a swarm of late challengers around him proved too much and he finished an honourable fourth of 28 runners, beaten just a length and a half. At least collecting £7,365 for his efforts was better than most first prizes.

Robert Stephens’ horses are running well without winning. A fourth and a third last week were followed by two second places at Uttoxeter on Sunday. Bumble Bay went down to a heavily backed favourite in a 2m handicap hurdle. Then Hedgeinator, a recent transfer from the Christian Williams yard, jumped very well when failing by a length and three quarters to a Nigel Twiston-Davies horse.

Which reminds us that that yard usually does very well at this time of year, and their four winners in the last ten days indicates that history looks set to repeat itself.