Cheltenham Festival clues aplenty at Warwick on Saturday

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There are some interesting races at Warwick this Saturday...
There are some interesting races at Warwick this Saturday...

As Warwick hosts a fascinating Jumps card on Saturday afternoon, Steve Chambers takes a look down memory lane and shows that the January fixture can throw up some vital Cheltenham Festival clues...

Hampton Novices' Chase

When looking for key form lines for Cheltenham in March, you wouldn't necessarily associate Warwick as one of the key racecourses for producing winners at the Festival, but in recent times the West Midlands venue has been a vital stepping stone to Prestbury Park glory, with the Leamington Novices' Hurdle and Hampton Novices' Chase headlining their January meeting and providing many pointers for the spring.

Four of the last five winners of the Hampton Novices' Chase - which has now been boosted to a Grade 2 contest from Listed level - have produced Cheltenham Festival contenders. The 2019 winner OK Corral was pulled up in the National Hunt Chase last season, while 2018 Warwick heroine Ms Parfois was narrowly pipped into second place in the National Hunt Chase the same campaign.

American, who won the 2017 renewal, was seen competing in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup, while Black Hercules, who bounded to success in the 2016 running, went on to win the JLT Novices' Chase (now known as the Marsh) two months later, so it's certainly a race to keep an eye on with a notebook at arm's reach.

Colin Tizzard's Highest Sun, Dan Skelton's Ardlethen and Kim Bailey's Two For Gold are battling it out for favouritism for Saturday's renewal, and all three are etched in at around the 40/1 mark for the National Hunt Chase. The latter of that triumvirate is going in search of a third win on the bounce having shone at Kelso last time out and at Carlisle prior to that, while Ardlethen was last of three in Grade 2 company when last seen at Newbury. However, Highest Sun was only beaten a few lengths by the classy Pym two starts ago, while he got his head in front last time out and could be one to watch at the weekend.

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Leamington Novices' Hurdle

Later on in the afternoon at 14:25, the Grade 2 Ballymore Leamington Novices' Hurdle will take centre stage, and much like the Hampton Novices' Chase, it's a race that has provided vital form clues for the festival.

Willoughby Court stormed to success in this race in 2017 and then went on to win the Neptune Novices' Hurdle (now Ballymore), while four years previous in 2013 The New One completed the Warwick/Cheltenham double in fine style for Nigel Twiston-Davies.

Arguably the biggest name in recent times in the Leamington Novices' Hurdle roll of honour is Inglis Drever, who could only finish second in novice hurdle company at the 2004 Cheltenham Festival, but the Howard Johnson-trained legendary stayer went on to win three World Hurdles (now Stayers' Hurdle) to show that this is certainly a race to watch with intrigue.

Dan Skelton has won two of the last five renewals of this event, and he will unleash the exciting Shan Blue in Saturday's contest, as he looks to build on a facile 20-length success at Southwell. A win here will see him drafted into the ante-post betting for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Decor Irlandais, a winner last time out at Catterick, is another prominent figure in the betting for tomorrow's event while Harry Senior and Keen On both come into the event with a win last time out and while they are etched in around the 33/1 mark for the Ballymore in March, an impressive win will certainly see their stock rise and their odds tumble for for the 2m 5f event at Prestbury Park in the spring.

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