Cheltenham Festival clues at Sandown and Fairyhouse this weekend

Fiddlerontheroof won last year's Tolworth Hurdle before lining up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Fiddlerontheroof won last year's Tolworth Hurdle before lining up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Steve Chambers looks at the weekend action from Sandown and Fairyhouse and picks out those horses that could feature at the Cheltenham Festival in March, with the Tolworth Novices' Hurdle likely to throw up some notable Supreme Novices' Hurdle clues...

Sandown 12:40, Saturday (Unibet 'You're On' Mares Hurdle)

With racing at Cheltenham abandoned on Friday, Sandown Park will be the feature meeting over the coming days, and Saturday's card should provide some quality National Hunt action, with a couple of the races potentially providing some notable clues for races at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival in March.

There's a fascinating listed Mares' Hurdle at 12:40 at Sandown, where some exciting performers will be looking to throw their hat into the ring for the 2021 Mares' Hurdle. The Irish-trained runners dominate the top of the betting for the Festival showpiece, with recent Leopardstown winner Concertista and reigning Mares' Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle heading the betting, but lurking in behind the front two in the market are some potential smart UK performers - some of which we may see at Sandown on Saturday.

Last season's Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle winner Indefatigable is around a 25/1 chance for the Mares' Hurdle in March, but she was last seen finishing third at Kempton Park, so will need to bounce back to form. Stormy Ireland finished second in the 2019 Mares' Hurdle while under the stewardship of Willie Mullins, but the six-year-old has since switched to the yard of Paul Nicholls and is looking to recapture her best form. As big as 40/1 for the 2021 Mares' Hurdle, Stormy Ireland could be an each-way prospect for many, and a positive run this weekend will see her price plummet.

Sandown 14:25, Saturday (Unibet Tolworth Novices' Hurdle)

The first Grade 1 of 2021 takes centre stage at Sandown Park on Saturday with the Tolworth Novices' Hurdle likely to attract a host of smart, emerging youngsters which could throw up a potential Supreme Novices' Hurdle contender. Won last year by Colin Tizzard's Fiddlerontheroof, the Tolworth has been won by some big stars down the years, including Desert Orchid (1984), French Holly (1998) and more recently Yorkhill (2016), and a new name shall be etched on the roll of honour this weekend.

Dan Skelton's Third Time Lucki has been hugely progressive over hurdles this season, and having finished second in the Grade 2 Sharp Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in November, he then went on to cruise to a nine-length success at Kempton on Boxing Day, and he could make a quick turnaround and line up on Saturday. Currently a 25/1 shot for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Third Time Lucki will need to win this impressively if he is to force his way into the Supreme shake-up, and with Appreciate It having thrown down an impressive marker over Christmas, Third Time Lucki has a long way to go to be regarded a top notch novice.

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Harry Fry's Metier has made a superb start to his hurdling career having been a fair performer on the Flat in Ireland, and wins at Newton Abbot and Ascot have shown he has ability over timber, but this is a huge step up in class and he will need to continue on the upgrade. A 33/1 chance for the Supreme, Metier is an exciting four-year-old and a win at the weekend will propel her into the Cheltenham Festival picture.

Second to the classy Benson at Sandown last time out, the Jane Williams-trained Galice Macalo is a filly on the upgrade, while Tom Lacey's hat-trick-seeking Adrimel (50/1 for the Supreme) is unbeaten over timber, and having finished 16th in last season's Champion Bumper, then Lacey's raider will hope to return to the festival in March.

Fairyhouse 14:50, Sunday (John & Chich Fowler Memorial EBF Mares Chase)

The addition of the Mares' Chase at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival has certainly brought a new lease of life into that division, and while some jumps fans will have their reservations about the new race to the festival schedule, it should provide a hugely competitive event in March, and Sunday should see a decent trial for the event at Fairyhouse.

The Grade 3 John & Chich Fowler Memorial EBF Mares Chase has attracted a strong list of entries, and unsurprisingly WIllie Mullins will have a notable say in proceedings, and he is likely to saddle some really smart performers. Salsaretta could spearhead the Closutton handler's charge, and she is already an 8/1 third favourite for the Mares' Chase in March. The Grade 2-winning novice chaser was a faller on her first start this season at Punchestown, so Mullins will be hoping she can improve on that first fence tumble, but having blossomed over the larger obstacles last season, then she will be one of the leading players if taking her chance.

Elimay has won her two career starts over fences and is a 12/1 chance for the Mares' Chase at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival. She finished second over hurdles at Punchestown in November, so will enjoy a return to the chasing sphere and is an intriguing contender, while the recent Kerry National winner Cabaret Queen (40/1 for Mares' Chase) could take her chance, but she may find it tough out of handicap company.

Gordon Elliott's Shattered Love has competed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Ryanair Chase in recent years, but having struggled in both, the Cullentra House mare may be targeted at the Mares' Chase at this year's Festival. Available at 16/1 for the Cheltenham event, the former JLT Novices' Chase (now Marsh Novices' Chase) winner will look to lay down a marker on Sunday and will be a notable thorn in the side of the Mullins battalion. The Mags Mullins-trained Agusta Gold has been a model of consistency over fences and adds more depth to a race that is sure to throw up some notable clues for the Mares' Chase at the 2021 festival at Prestbury Park.

Cheltenham Festival Races

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