We are less than three weeks away from the Cheltenham Festival now but still there are plenty of interesting trial races taking place across the country this weekend. Trainers are desperate to get a run into some of their potential Festival horses over the next few days and that ensures that we can look forward to an excellent weekend of sport. All eyes will be on Kempton Park on Saturday afternoon in particular as they play host to their excellent Betbright Chase day.
As we have already mentioned, the feature fixture of the weekend will be at Kempton with the Adonis Hurdle one of the more interesting races on the card. Down the years we have seen a number of Triumph Hurdle winners emerge from the Adonis and it will be fascinating to see what comes out of this race on Saturday. The last horse to win both the Adonis and the Triumph in the same season was Zarkandar in 2011 while other notable recent winners of the Adonis include Binocular (2008), Punjabi (2007) and Well Chief (2003).
It remains to be seen if we see a winner of that calibre this weekend but there are certainly some nice horses with entries at this stage. One that is likely to take his chance is Activial who has shown some excellent form as a juvenile so far this season for Harry Fry. He was last seen finishing a close second to Calipto at Newbury at the back end of November and that form has since been franked in fine style. Activial is currently around a 25/1 shot for the Triumph Hurdle next month and a good performance here is likely to see those odds tumble.
It won't be easy for Activial though as he come sup against a number of strong contenders in the Adonis including Agreement, who could be set to make his first start over hurdles for Rebecca Curtis. AP McCoy will be on-board that one while Commissioned is another Triumph Hurdle possible who could be heading to Kempton on Saturday.
The next race on the Kempton card is the Grade 2 Pendil Novices Chase over two miles and four furlongs and this should be an informative renewal. The likely favourite is the Alan King trained Balder Succes who has impressed everyone so far this winter. The six-year-old was last seen winning the Kingmaker Novices Chase at Warwick earlier this month and he has plenty of big races ahead of this spring. He is towards the head of the betting for both the Arkle and the JLT Novices Chase while connections haven't ruled out missing Cheltenham altogether for Aintree and/or Punchestown.
The Dovecote Novices Hurdle is perhaps the most intriguing race of the day at Kempton with a number of potential Supreme Novices Hurdle horses set to lock horns. The Paul Nicholls trained Irving is the likely favourite here as he looks for a fourth win on the bounce this season for the Ditcheat handler. He was last seen winning the Mittie Kennel Gate Novices Hurdle at Ascot in December and he is a horse that could still be anything.
The same applies to First Mohican who will be having just his second start over hurdles after winning his debut in good style at Doncaster. There is plenty of hype around the Alan King horse at the moment but this will be an acid test of his credentials ahead of the Festival. Dubai Prince is another runner in the race who has plenty of class for John Ferguson with the Dovecote shaping up to be one of the most informative Supreme trials of the season.
Elsewhere on Saturday there will be plenty of Grand National clues with Newcastle playing host to the Eider Chase and over in Ireland, while we can look forward to the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse. The Bobbyjo has grown into the key Irish trial for the National in recent years and that could once again be the case this season. Potential runners on Saturday include On His Own, Quito De La Roque and Mount Benbulben all of whom are class acts on their day,
It is a relatively quiet Sunday this weekend with Cheltenham on the horizon but there could still be some Festival clues to be gleaned. One of those could come at Fontwell Park with Saphir Du Rheu expected to line up in the Totepool National Spirit Hurdle over two miles and four furlongs. The Paul Nicholls trained five-year-old has won his last three starts in impressive fashion and is clearly a highly progressive horse. He is a 14/1 shot for the World Hurdle next month although he is not a certain runner at this stage given the strength of the yard in that discipline.
The other race of note that could be worth keeping an eye on, on Sunday, is the Woodlands Park Nas Na Riogh Novice Chase at Naas. The two mile, four furlong contest will have a small but select field with Mozoltov the most interesting potential runner. The Willie Mullins trained eight-year-old was highly fancied for the Arkle before only finishing third in the Irish Arkle last month and he should be given a second chance here. A good run from him at Naas could see him rocket back up the Arkle market with his current Festival price of 40/1 perhaps a decent each-way shout at this stage.