The dust has only just settled on the hectic festive racing calendar but the big races continues this weekend in both the UK and Ireland. The weather has been terrible for much of the week which may threaten some of the meetings but at the time of writing, the fixture at Sandown does go ahead, subject to an inspection on Saturday morning.
The Tolworth Hurdle is the feature race at Sandown Park and it is the final Grade 1 Novice Hurdle of the season, in the UK, before the Cheltenham Festival. That alone ensures that it takes on plenty of importance and we have a strong field engaged at this stage. The star name among the declarations is that of The Liquidator who has been a class novice hurdler for David Pipe so far this winter and should be the one to beat.
The Liquidator was last seen winning the Supreme Novices Trial at Cheltenham in November and a win at Sandown* on Saturday would be a hat-trick. He is being aimed at the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Festival in March and another good run here in testing conditions will see his price contract even further.
Other runners declared for the Tolworth include Josses Hill who is a highly regarded six-year-old from the Nicky Henderson yard. He was last seen winning a maiden hurdle at Newbury last month and given his reputation, Josses Hill could still be anything.
The other race on the Sandown card on Saturday that could have a major affect on the Cheltenham Festival markets is the Juvenile Hurdle at 12.40pm. The interesting runner is Gitane Du Berlais who will be coming across from Ireland for Willie Mullins, with Ruby Walsh also set to make the journey for the ride. A good run from him on Saturday could well see him on the path way to becoming a major JCB Triumph Hurdle contender at Cheltenham in March.
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh will be back over in Ireland on Sunday with Naas playing host to a good looking card. The feature race of the day will be the Grade 2 Slaney Novice Hurdle over 2m4f with Briar Hill set to start as a warm order favourite. The Champion Bumper hero from last season has already won twice over the hurdles this season and a good run from him at Naas will only serve to enhance his Festival claims. His Cheltenham target remains up in the air at the moment with the six-year currently featuring towards the head of both the Supreme and Neptune ante-post markets.
The two mile Novice Chase (1pm) is the other major race on the Naas card on Sunday and once again it is Messrs Mullins and Walsh who take centre stage. The pair team up with Mozoltov for the contest with Davey Russell no longer the number one jock for the Gigginstown House owned horses. Walsh will be delighted to get the ride on a horse who made a winning chase debut last month and could well make up into an Arkle horse in March.
*THE TOLWORTH HURDLE SANDOWN CARD IS OFF DUE TO A WATERLOGGED TRACK