Cheltenham Festival Day 1
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Cheltenham Festival clues at Newbury, Newcastle and Fairyhouse this weekend

Cheltenham Festival clues: Envoi Allen is a warm order for the Drinmore Novice Chase on Sunday.
Cheltenham Festival clues: Envoi Allen is a warm order for the Drinmore Novice Chase on Sunday.

Steve Chambers looks at the top class racing from Newbury, Newcastle and Fairyhouse at the weekend, where the likes of Paisley Park, Epatante and Envoi Allen are set to light up the turf and look to enhance their Cheltenham Festival claims...

Newbury 15:00, Friday (Long Distance Hurdle)

A spectacular couple of days of elite National Hunt racing will take place at Newbury on Friday and Saturday, and the opening day will see some smart performers taking to the track, with Fiddlerontheroof a fascinating contender in the Grade 2 Berkshire Novices' Chase. However, the standout contest is the Long Distance Hurdle at 15:00 where some top class stayers will do battle in a competitive-looking renewal of the Grade 2 contest, and it's sure to throw up some vital pointers for the Stayers' Hurdle at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.

Reigning Stayers' Hurdle hero Lisnagar Oscar will endeavour to get back to winning ways having last been seen finishing fourth in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby. A shock 50/1 winner of the Stayers' Hurdle last year at Cheltenham, the Rebecca Curtis-trained seven-year-old will look to show that shock win wasn't a flash in the pan, but he will face some lively rivals on Friday, and the current market leader is the 2019 Stayers' Hurdle hero Paisley Park, who himself is on somewhat of a comeback mission.

An odds-on favourite for the three-mile staying feature in March, Paisley Park could only finish seventh, but heads to Newbury as the reigning champion in the Long Distance Hurdle. Currently joint-favourite for the 2021 Stayers,  Paisley Park is a classy performer and has to be thereabouts on Friday, but will come up against improver staying talent McFabulous, who won the Persian War with aplomb at Chepstow, and is on a fine three-race winning streak. Summerville Boy and Thyme Hill add yet more depth to a race that should throw up a whole number of important festival pointers.

Newcastle 14:05, Saturday (Fighting Fifth Hurdle)

Reigning Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante is expected to make her comeback on Saturday as she heads to the north east to line up in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. A three-length winner of the hurdling showpiece at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the JP McManus-owned mare is looking to follow in the footsteps of stablemate Buveur D'Air, who won the Fighting Fifth en route to Champion Hurdle glory.

Likely to be sent off an odds-on favourite for Saturday's test, Epatante will look to enhance her fine record over hurdles to six wins from seven runs, and it's hard to see her being dislodged from the head of the 2021 Champion Hurdle betting, as she should cruise to victory this weekend. Last season's shock winner Cornerstone Lad will be looking to retain his crown, while the race-fit duo of Sceau Royal and Silver Streak will provide some test for the jolly, but while the former can chase home the Seven Barrows raider, it's Epatante that looks a class above the field, and can claim victory.

Newbury 15:00, Saturday (Ladbrokes Trophy)

One of the Jumps season's premier handicap chases will take place on day two of Newbury's winter carnival on Saturday, and the Ladbrokes Trophy should serve up an enthralling renewal. At the time of writing, bookmakers are pricing it up at 8/1 the field, so a hugely trappy betting heat is expected at the Berkshire venue, but could the winner turn into a potential Cheltenham Festival winner in March?

Last season's Ultima Handicap Chase at the festival will provide some vital form clues with the winner that day, The Conditional, second placed Kildisart and fourth-placed Vinndication all prominent figures in the betting for the valuable prize this weekend. The latter of that triumvirate carried top weight in that Cheltenham contest, and shaped with real promise when second to Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase in his first start of the season. Currently a 33/1 chance for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Vinndication could be the springer in the Gold Cup betting, if prevailing, but The Conditional and Kildisart are two class acts, and can't be dismissed.

Colin Tizzard's Copperhead (50/1 for Cheltenham Gold Cup) is another interesting entry, while some potential Grand National pointers could emerge with Two For Gold and Aye Right - both 40/1 for Grand National - taking their chance in what should be a crackerjack contest.

Fairyhouse 13:05, Sunday (Royal Bond Novice Hurdle)

Gordon Elliott trained the mighty Envoi Allen to victory in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle 12 months ago, and the star Irish handler will unleash another exciting hurdling talent on Sunday in the shape of Ballyadam. A facile 12-length winner of a maiden hurdle at Down Royal last month, Ballyadam was propelled into challenging for favouritism in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, a race which Envoi Allen won at the festival following his Fairyhouse success.

A race that has been won by the likes of Hurricane Fly, Jezki and Nichols Canyon down the years, the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle is one of the premier Grade 1 novice hurdles in Ireland, and the winner is often a leading contender for the Graded novice hurdles at Cheltenham in March. Ballyadam could face Shewearsitwell and 2020 Mares' Novices' Hurdle winner Concertista, who could be a brace of shots from Willie Mullins, who has won four of the last six runnings of the the Royal Bond, and both those classy stars could shape into real Cheltenham players.

Fairyhouse 13:35, Sunday (Drinmore Novice Chase)

A fine winner of the Royal Bond last season, Envoi Allen also won at the 2018 Fairyhouse meeting, as he stormed to a four-length victory in a NH Flat race, and he is set to bid for a hat-trick of wins on Sunday in the Drinmore Novice Chase. One of the superstars of last season, which culminated with a sparkling win in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, Envoi Allen will now embark on a novice chasing campaign, and he kicked off his career over the larger obstacles with an impressive six-length win at Down Royal in October.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Cementing his place at the head of the betting for the 2021 Marsh Novices' Chase, Envoi Allen showed a real liking to chasing with some fine leaps, and while Sunday's test should prove to be tougher, as he ventures into Grade 1 company over fences, he's been installed as a red-hot odds-on favourite to maintain an unbeaten record under Rules, and it's hard to see him not ease to success. Easywork chased home Envoi Allen in the Ballymore and is looking to reverse that form now taking on Elliott's charge over fences, and he is likely to be the biggest danger, while Andy Dufresne impressed when winning a novice chase at Wexford last time out and adds more depth to a mouth-watering event.

Fairyhouse 14:35, Sunday (Hatton's Grace Hurdle)

Another star of the turf is set to return on Sunday as Honeysuckle attempts to retain the Hatton's Grace Hurdle crown she won by half a length last season. Henry de Bromhead's star mare won this event en route to claiming victory in the Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and the unbeaten six-year-old will line up on Sunday as the odds-on favourite.

Currently favourite for the Mares' Hurdle again, connections could be tempted by a possible tilt at the 2021 Champion Hurdle and a clash with Epatante, and a comfortable success at the weekend will certainly see her current 14/1 price for the Champion Hurdle contract considerably. Taking on the boys at the weekend, Honeysuckle could come up against Saldier, who is looking to follow up a fine victory in the Morgiana Hurdle earlier this month. A 25/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle, the Willie Mullins-trained star looks to be a horse on the upgrade and is an interesting runner, while Fury Road, Beacon Edge and Ronald Pump add more depth to the event.

Cheltenham Festival Races
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