Five races to watch in February with Cheltenham in mind

Cyrname winning the 2019 Ascot Chase in fine style.
Cyrname winning the 2019 Ascot Chase in fine style.

With just over a month to go until the Cheltenham Festival, Steve Chambers picks out five races in February that could provide some vital clues for the action at Prestbury Park between March 10-13...

Denman Chase, Newbury - Saturday 8th February

Newbury will be celebrating the 20th running of the Denman Chase this Saturday and in those two decades it has emerged as one of the premier Cheltenham Gold Cup trials. Four horses have tasted victory in the Denman Chase before going on to claim Gold Cup glory at the Cheltenham Festival the following month.

Kauto Star (2007) was the first to achieve the coveted double, while a year later Denman (the horse the race is named in honour of) won this contest before bounding to Gold Cup glory. Mark Bradstock's Coneygree won the 2015 Denman Chase before shining at Cheltenham with Native River becoming the fourth horse to achieve the memorable double in 2018.

Colin Tizzard's Native River, who also won the race in 2017, is a red-hot favourite to secure his third consecutive win in this race, and while he hovers around a price of 20/1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, a win here would surely see him shorten in the ante-post betting.

Nicky Henderson trained Long Run to victory in 2012 in this race and the Seven Barrows handler will unleash former Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite, while the Paul Nicholls-trained Secret Investor will add more strength in depth to a fascinating renewal of the Grade 2 race.

Ascot Chase, Ascot - Saturday 15th February

The sole Grade 1 race remaining in February is the Ascot Chase, which takes place on Saturday week and will see the likely return of the Paul Nicholls-trained Cyrname, who will look to bounce back from his King George VI Chase defeat at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

The Ditcheat inmate kicked off the season in sensational fashion by handing multiple Cheltenham Festival winner Altior his first career defeat over fences in the Christy 1965 Chase, and having won his last three outings at the Berkshire venue, he'll surely relish a return to Ascot next weekend.

Cyrname's brilliance on right-handed tracks propelled him to the top of the ratings over fences, but while he is a 12/1 shot for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival next month, Nicholls is unsure whether to unleash him at the four-day National Hunt extravaganza.

A shorter price for the Ryanair is Nigel Twiston-Davies's Riders Onthe Storm, who is set to line up in the Ascot Chase on the back of a facile win of a Graduation Chase back in December. Frodon, who won the 2019 Ryanair Chase, is another eye-catching entry for the Nicholls' yard, will look to retain the crown with Cyrname, who won the Ascot Chase 12 months ago in blistering fashion.

One Man (1998), Kauto Star (2008) and Cue Card (2013) have all tasted victory in this race, which has been a stepping stone for many Cheltenham Festival winners down the years, with some using this race as a springboard to the Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase or even the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

A must watch!

Reynoldstown Novices' Chase, Ascot - Saturday 15th February

While the Ascot Chase will take centre stage next weekend at Ascot, the supporting card is awash with top notch races and the Grade 2 Reynoldstown Novices' Chase is one of the highlights. A Grade 2 three-mile novice chase, it's a premier trial for the RSA Chase, but has struggled to produce Cheltenham Festival winners in recent years.

The last horse to land victory in the Reynoldstown before going on to win the RSA was the Rebecca Curtis-trained O'Faolains Boy, who achieved the feat in 2014. Prior to that it was Jonjo O'Neill's Albertas Run in 2008, showcasing the lack of depth the race has possessed in recent times.

Slate House and Sam Brown both sit around the 16/1 mark for the RSA Chase and both are potential runners in the Reynoldstown. There was some talk of Nicky Henderson unleashing RSA favourite Champ in this race, but the veteran handler is likely to head to Kelso with his star novice chaser.

Despite a disappointing record of late in unearthing Cheltenham Festival winners, the Reynoldstown will still provide some vital clues in the staying novice division with the winner emerging as a major player in the RSA field.

Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, Kempton Park - Saturday 22nd February

Arguably one of the most exciting, intriguing trials on the Jumps calendar is the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, which takes place at Kempton Park on February 22. A platform for four-year-old juveniles to strut their stuff, the Adonis has produced six winners of the Triumph Hurdle since the late 1980s.

With the Triumph Hurdle only taking place a few weeks after the Adonis, the Kempton Park race has almost been the last opportunity for trainers to test out their young guns before a tilt at the festival in March. If a horse excels then the Triumph is firmly on the agenda, but if they fail to meet the standards for Graded company then the Fred Winter beckons.

Zarkandar emerged on to the scene for Paul Nicholls in 2011, winning the Adonis on his British debut, before the Ditcheat inmate went on to win the Triumph a few weeks later in spectacular fashion. Prior to that, Soldatino (2010) and Penzance (2005) landed the Adonis/Triumph double, so it's a fascinating race with Cheltenham in mind.

Dovecote Novices' Hurdle, Kempton Park - Saturday 22nd February

As well as the juveniles shining at Kempton Park on February 22, the Dovecote Novices' Hurdle can be a race targeted by those trainers looking to get one final prep run into their youngsters before the Cheltenham Festival.

The two-mile Grade 2 event has been regarded as a notable trial for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, which opens the Cheltenham Festival, but it hasn't had a notable roll call of stars that have achieved the double. Indeed, the Nicky Henderson-trained Flown was the last to win both in 1992, showing the difficulty of winning both the Dovecote and the Supreme in recent times.

Subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Granville Again won the 1991 Dovecote, while in more recent times Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Sire De Grugy won the 2013 Dovecote before excelling over fences.

It may not have the strength in depth on the roll of honour when discussing subsequent Cheltenham winners, but it will still be a contest that unearths a talented winner.

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