Cheltenham Festival clues at Kempton, Wincanton, Chepstow and Naas

Ryanair Chase hope Imperial Aura runs in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton Park this weekend.
Ryanair Chase hope Imperial Aura runs in the Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton Park this weekend.

Steve Chambers looks at the weekend action from Kempton Park, Wincanton, Chepstow and Naas and picks out those horses that could play a notable role at the Cheltenham Festival in March...

Cold weather has decimated the National Hunt schedule over the last couple of weeks, so jumps fans will be eager that the action takes place this weekend, and it's set to be an epic weekend of action over the sticks, with some rescheduled Graded events set to bolster the quality action, while the rescheduled Welsh Grand National will be the showpiece event at Chepstow.

With just over two months until the Cheltenham Festival, the countdown is beginning to hot up, but the aforementioned Welsh National is unlikely to provide any Cheltenham Festival clues, so we look elsewhere across the UK & Ireland for those races that could offer some notable pointers for the action at Prestbury Park in March.

Kempton 14:20, Saturday (Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle)

Due to be held at Cheltenham on New Year's Day, the Relkeel Hurdle will now be run at Kempton Park on Saturday afternoon, and it will see a host of smart performers attempting to propel themselves into the Stayers' Hurdle picture. Jonjo O'Neill's More Of That was the last horse to achieve the coveted Relkeel Hurdle, Stayers' Hurdle double in the 2013/2014 campaign, and the Paul Nicholls-trained Mcfabulous will look to emulate the former Jackdaws Castle in-mate.

A winner of the Persian War at Chepstow at the start of the season, Mcfabulous was unable to follow that success up when third behind Thyme Hill and Paisley Park in the Long Distance Hurdle. but defeat to the two horses that dominate the Stayers' Hurdle betting isn't a huge negative and the Ditcheat raider can play a starring role this weekend. A 20/1 chance for the Stayers, Mcfabulous is still relatively lightly-raced - having only had six hurdle runs - so he is entitled to improve from that Newbury outing in November and sets the standard.

Former Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Summerville Boy won this event 12 months ago and is an eye-catching player in the Stayers betting at 33/1. He is a major player on Saturday, while last season's Martin Pipe winner Indefatigable (40/1) is another (40/1) looking to throw her hat into the Stayers' Hurdle ring, meaning Saturday's rescheduled Relkeel should provide some notable clues.

Kempton 14:55, Saturday (Silviniaco Conti Chase)

First run in 2016, the Silviniaco Conti Chase already has an impressive roll of honour, with the likes of Waiting Patiently (2018) and Frodon (2020) having tasted victory in the Grade 2 contest, and Saturday's renewal at Kempton Park should throw up another star winner. Clear favourite at the time of writing is the Kim Bailey-trained Imperial Aura, who is currently the second favourite for the Ryanair Chase in March, and a win at the weekend could see him launch to favouritism. A superb winner of a handicap event at last season's Cheltenham Festival, Imperial Aura has notched up two fine wins at Carlisle and Ascot this season, and he is a warm order to claim Saturday's prize and make it three wins from three this campaign.

Nicky Henderson saddled Top Notch to victory in this race in 2019 and the Seven Barrows handler has entered Mister Fisher for the contest at the weekend. An impressive winner of the Peterborough Chase at Cheltenham in December earned Mister Fisher quotes of 16/1 for the Ryanair, but this task is a lot tougher, so he has to improve, while Riders Onthe Storm (25/1) and Master Tommytucker (33/1) are another brace of classy performers and will aim to down Imperial Aura in a fascinating renewal. The aforementioned Top Notch could look to regain his crown and adds depth to the Henderson charge, with Nuts Well and Clondaw Castle another notable duo entered for the 2m 4f 100y event.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Wincanton 14:05, Saturday (Dipper Novices' Chase)

Another race saved from Cheltenham's New Year's Day abandoned meeting is the Dipper Novices' Chase, which will be run at Wincanton on Saturday afternoon, and it will see Dan Skelton's hugely exciting Protektorat take on the Paul Nicholls-trained Hitman in a race that looks an absolute stonker on paper. Three strong-looking horses sit at the head of the betting for the three elite novice chases at the Cheltenham Festival, with Shishkin dominating the Arkle betting, Envoi Allen the Marsh Novices' Chase and Monkfish the RSA, but could one of the aforementioned duo of Protektorat and Hitman show they are worthy contenders at the Festival with a win here.

Protektorat appears to be a Marsh contender all over and is 16/1 for that contest, and he was hugely impressive over 2m 4f at Cheltenham In November. With stablemate Allmankind likely to be seen in the Arkle, Protektorat should head for the Marsh and a clash with Envoi Allen, but he shaped well last time out, and looks a smart prospect. Hitman is 20/1 for the Arkle and Marsh, with the former looking most likely, as having won on chasing debut at Ffos Las he then finished second to Allmankind in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown Park. Receiving weight from Protektorat this weekend, Hitman could be a major thorn in the side of Skelton's charge, and both look exciting chasers in the making.

Alan King's Messire Des Obeaux was a winner last time out at Wincanton and will look for a double at the track, and his current odds of 33/1 for the Marsh will shorten with a win here, while Sporting John adds more depth to the race, but the Philip Hobbs-trained raider was beaten at Exeter on his last outing over the larger obstacles.

Chepstow 13:25, Saturday (Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle)

Gary Moore could have another smart juvenile on his hands in the shape of Nassalam, who is a warm order for Chepstow's Grade 1 Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle, and the four-year-old is looking to showcase his Triumph Hurdle claims with a win at the Welsh track on Saturday. Having trained crack juvenile Goshen last season, who fell at the final hurdle when miles clear of his Triumph Hurdle rivals, Moore will be hoping Nassalam can prove to be equally as classy as his stablemate and is the one to beat at the weekend. Currently a 12/1 chance for the Triumph, Nassalam has cruised to a brace of wins at Fontwell Park over a combined winning distance of over 100 lengths, but Saturday's test should show whether he is a top class youngster.

Gordon Elliott has an exciting bunch of juveniles this season with Zanahiyr heading the Triumph betting, but the Cullentra House handler could saddle Quilixios on Saturday, who was last seen cruising to a 20-length success at Punchestown in late October. Like Nassalam, Quilixios is a 12/1 chance for the Triumph, but it's unknown whether he will or is allowed to make the trip over to Wales for this contest, so the 9/4 for Saturday's event is worth watching at the moment. Duffle Coat is another entry for the Elliott team, and he was last seen winning a juvenile contest at Cheltenham last year, so is another fascinating potential runner.

Paul Nicholls has saddled Quel Destin and Adrien Du Pont to victory in this race and he could unleash French recruit Houx Gris, who could make his British debut. A winner at Auteuil in October, the Ditcheat charge is worth watching in the betting and he adds more depth to a race that should prove to be a superb guide to the Triumph Hurdle.

Naas 14:30, Sunday (Lawlor's Of Naas Novice Hurdle)

There's Grade 1 action at Naas on Sunday with the Lawlor's Of Naas Novice Hurdle taking centre stage, and it's the event Envoi Allen won last year before going on to claim Ballymore Novices' Hurdle glory at the Cheltenham Festival a few months later. While there may not be an equine talent like Envoi Allen in this year's renewal, it should still throw up a notable Ballymore contender.

Henry De Bromhead's Bob Olinger is currently heading the betting and he is as short as 10/1 for the Ballymore, and he earned that price after he cruised to a 14-length success in a maiden hurdle at Navan in December. He will need to step up if he is to be a contender at the weekend, but he's open to a whole multitude of improvement over timber and is an exciting novice hurdler.

Willie Mullins saddled both Mikael D'Haguenet and Briar Hill to victory in this race and they also tasted Cheltenham Festival glory and the master of Closutton will saddle Blue Lord at the weekend, and that charge is as big as 25/1 for the Ballymore. Jessica Harrington's Ashdale Bob (16/1 for Ballymore) is going in search of a third win on the bounce at Navan and is of interest, while the abovementioned Elliott will saddle Farouk D'Alene, who will look to emulate Envoi Allen's win from 12 months ago and that raider was a winner at Limerick in late December and should be respected, if lining up.

Cheltenham Festival Races
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