With Cheltenham approaching faster by the minute, Festival hopefuls are hoping to get the last minute prep run to put them in the ideal condition come their big race in March.
And potential festival stars are out in numbers at Ascot, Wincanton and Haydock this weekend all in hope of gaining one over their rivals.
The Betfair Ascot Chase is the days big feature race of the day. The strength in depth of the field is phenomenal with four out of the six runners being either previous or reigning festival winners.
2011 Arkle victor, Captain Chris, leads the market at 5/2 at Paddy Power and will take all the beating if his King George efforts are anything to go by.
Philip Hobbs’ stable star came from nowhere to jump away from Long Run at the last only to get outstayed on the run in to the line.
His form is boosted even further with victory over Finian’s Rainbow and Ghizao in his season return at Ascot in the Amlin 1965 Chase. He did have 10lbs in hand on Finian’s Rainbow that day but that by no means would have reversed the twenty-length hammering in which he gave the current Champion Chaser.
Finian’s Rainbow ran an absolute stinker in that seasonal reappearance but jockey Barry Geraghty was never confident giving away all that weight on such dire ground.
Although the ground is likely to be on the heavy side of soft, it will by no means be as traitorous as the race in November and connections are much more bullish of a performance this race, than they were last race.
At 7/2 with Coral, there is almost certainly value providing he can rekindle the form that saw him pronounced the best 2m chaser last year.
Finian’s Rainbow is a lot older than many may think at 10-years-old. He has matured late and it was last summer that for me saw him really grow up consequently leading to his blockbuster season last campaign.
However he looked to have slipped back into old habits last time out but should he have matured for that run, he will most certainly be a contender in this race and whatever race Nicky Henderson selects for him come March.
The youngest horse in the field comes in the form of the impressive, yet slightly complicated, Cue Card.
The Collin Tizzard trained seven-year-old has been destined for greatness ever since his eight length romp over Al Ferof in the 2010 Champion Bumper.
Big time success has somewhat alluded Cue Card since that victory but his record shows signs of consistency and his form is very boastful.
His latest outing in the King George can be discarded from the form books as he struggled to see out the trip and made two big errors early on. He did however still finish a respectable fifth in a very hard race.
His glorious demolition of Menorah and Edgardo Sol in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter in November shows what he can do on his day and also showed his willingness to see out 2m4f.
He may have beaten very little that day but anything that wins a Grade Two by 26 lengths must be considered.
He has come closer than anyone to taking down the mighty Sprinter Sacre and looks the type who will only get better. He for me, is the one to beat.
Somersby is arguably the most frustrating horse in national hunt racing. His form just never adds up as he seems to turn up when least expected.
For that reason I would never rule Somersby out but I do think at 5/1 he is slightly on the short side as there is better in the field.
Paul Nicholls trained Ghizao is appealing at 10/1 for E/W backers as he is mighty fine jumper who should stay the trip. The ever popular Pigeon Island props the betting as the 66/1 outsider with this race coming probably a year or two too late.
With the weights for the Grand National being announced this week, there has never been a more appropriate time for the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock.
Rigadin De Beauchene is the 5/1 favourite for the race after his stunning victory in the Classic Chase at Warwick last out. Despite that victory the handicappers have only raised him 2lbs to 10-5 putting him in the ideal position to strike again.
His rivals come in the form of Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude (6/1) and runner up Tea For Three (11/2).
Monbeg Dude has been handed a 10lbs penalty for that victory but still looks well in considering the 12lbs he has in hand of Tea For Three.
The speculation of Grandouet’s Champion Hurdle chances has been rife in the racing news this week. A slight injury to Nicky Henderson’s hopeful has ruled him out of Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle leaving Paul Nicholls’ Zarkandar the outright favourite (4/9).
The ever improving Raya Star (4/1) looks to be his biggest test but it will surely be a procession for Zarkandar just to tune him up for the Champion Hurdle next month.