Warwick, Exeter & Punchestown could provide Cheltenham clues

Reserve Tank (right) heads to Exeter on Sunday to enhance his Marsh Novices' Chase claims.
Reserve Tank (right) heads to Exeter on Sunday to enhance his Marsh Novices' Chase claims.

Newbury may be the main attraction this weekend when trying to unearth clues for the Cheltenham Festival, but Steve Chambers has picked out races at Warwick and Punchestown that could provide a few pointers...

Warwick 14:05 - Kingmaker Novices' Chase - Saturday

Six runners will head to the two-mile start for the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick on Saturday afternoon, a race that could unearth a potential Arkle Challenge Trophy contender for next month's festival.

Alan King's Voy Por Ustedes was the last horse to win the Kingmaker before going on to land Arkle glory in 2006, but since then Long Run (2010) and Finian's Rainbow (2011) have won the Kingmaker before going on to win some of the big races at the Cheltenham Festival. So, it's certainly a must-watch contest away from Newbury on Saturday.

The Dan Skelton-trained Nube Negra is likely to be challenging for favouritism and was last seen finishing second in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown Park, so sets the standard. However, he doesn't hold an Arkle entry, so while he is a player here he won't be seen competing on the opening day of the Prestbury Park extravaganza next month.

Harry Whittington's Rouge Vif and the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Torpillo do both hold Arkle entries and will take on Nube Negra tomorrow. The pair are hovering around the 33/1 mark for the Arkle, but both tasted defeat last time out, so will look to bounce back to winning ways.

Nicky Henderson saddled the aforementioned duo of Long Run and Finian's Rainbow to victory in this race and the Seven Barrows handler will unleash Precious Cargo, who was beaten by Moonlighter last time out, and that pair will clash at Warwick, as they both look to cement their place as a possible Arkle contender in what should be a competitive and really informative renewal.

Exeter 13:55 - Watch On Racing TV Novices' Chase - Sunday

A Grade 1-winning novice hurdler last season, Colin Tizzard's Reserve Tank will be making his hotly-anticipated return to the track at Exeter on Sunday, where he will face some classy rivals in a fascinating novice chase.

As short as 10/1 for the Marsh Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, the six-year-old will be looking to recapture the winning thread after he was last seen being beaten by Danny Whizzbang in the Grade 2 John Francome Novices' Chase at Newbury in November. Having previously won the Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices' Chase at Wincanton, Reserve Tank - who has started all three chases races as an odds-on favourite - will set the standard as he warms up for the spring festivals, but Tizzard's charge could face some lively opposition.

Sent off second favourite for the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, the Paul Nicholls-trained Master Tommytucker will line up at Exeter this weekend, and the 16/1 chance for the Marsh Novices' Chase has to be a huge thorn in Reserve Tank's side. A faller in that Grade 1 at Kempton, the nine-year-old will be looking for a clear round, but if he can improve on his jumping then he is another that could be a major player in the Marsh Novices' Chase next month.

Tidal Flow and Champagne Mystery are another brace of eye-catching declarations for this superb race in the West Country on Sunday, but one thing is for sure, the winner could launch into becoming one of the premier challengers for the Marsh on the third day of the Cheltenham Festival.

Punchestown 13:45 - P.P Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase - Sunday

A top notch hurdler and chaser in his prime, Yanworth has now become a top notch recruit to the Cross Country division, and the Enda Bolger-trained veteran will be the one to beat in the P.P Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase at Punchestown on Sunday.

As short as 7/1 for the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, the J.P. McManus-owned ten-year-old will need to bounce back from a fall in a race at Cheltenham last time out, but if he can show his best this weekend then he should take all the beating.

Tiger Roll may be the dominant figure in the Cross Country betting as he bids for a third win on the spin on day two of the festival, but with Gordon Elliott's charge set for a tilt at the Boyne Hurdle next weekend to show his fitness before he heads to Cheltenham and then on to the Grand National, then the door could be ajar at this stage for a potential challenger for the Cross Country crown.

Yanworth was a winner on his last start at Punchestown, so is the one to beat, but he will have to contend with stablemate Josies Orders on Sunday, who is looking to retain the crown he won 12 months ago, and the former Cross Country Chase winner at the festival is a class act on his day.

Jessica Harrington's Neverushacon is a 25/1 shot for the Cross Country next month and will line up on Sunday with Ballyboker Bridge adding more depth to a race that will kick off Punchestown's seven-race card.

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