The weather has been poor across the UK and Ireland over the past few days but thankfully the big weekend racing fixtures have survived the onslaught. Punters, trainers and horses can expect testing conditions wherever they head to over the next few days but that shouldn't stop some us enjoying some cracking racing. The feature cards on Saturday in the UK will be at Ascot and Haydock while there will be plenty of sport over in Ireland as always, with Naas in particular looking like an excellent day of racing.
Perhaps the feature race of the weekend will come at Ascot on Saturday afternoon with the Clarence House Chase taking centre stage. Formerly known as the Victor Chandler Chase, the Clarence House is a key Champion Chase trial and will be a vital race for a number of horses on the way to Cheltenham. All eyes will be on Sire De Grugy who will be starting as a warm favourite for Gary Moore after a stellar season to-date.
Sire De Grugy has already won the Desert Orchid Chase and the Tingle Creek this season and that form ensures he is the one to beat here. Hidden Cyclone has made the trip over from Ireland for the race and the Shark Hanlon trained in-mate could offer the favourite a stern test. The ground will be heavy at Ascot which could play a part with Sire De Grugy once again set to put his Festival claims to the test.
Elsewhere on the Ascot card on Saturday there is a a good novice hurdle over 2m6f which features some potentially excellent horses. Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls and Philip Hobbs all have runners in this one and a good run here could throw the likes of Champagne West, Call The Cops and Ceasar Milan right into the Albert Bartlett mix.
There is a brilliant card at Haydock Park this weekend with the Champion Hurdle Trial of particular interest. The race does exactly what it says on the tin and there are one or two very exciting horses set to take the chance in the north-west on Saturday, Melodic Rendezvous won the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton earlier in the season and will run against the progressive Ptit Zig who could still be anything. Both horses hold an entry in the Champion Hurdle and while they need to improve plenty to feature at Cheltenham, both are still open to more progression ahead of this one.
The Supreme Novices Hurdle trial at Haydock was won by Cinders And Ashes on his way to winning the Supreme at the Festival back in 2012. It remains to be seen whether or not any of this years field can repeat the trick this season, but all eyes will be on the David Pipe trained Un Temps Pour Tout who is the likely favourite. He has shown some decent form so far this season and at the moment is around a 25/1 shot for the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Festival.
There is also an intriguing 2m5f Novice Chase on the Haydock card on Saturday with Gevrey Chambertain set to continue his chasing career for David Pipe. The classy six-year-old won his only start of the season so far in good fashion but this will be a step up against the likes of Taquin Du Seuil who will run for Jonjo O'Neill and AP McCoy. A good run from either horse will set them on the right path to Cheltenham with the RSA Chase a possible at this stage for Gevrey Chambertain.
Katenko is the likely favourite for the Peter Marsh Chase on the same Haydock card with conditions likely to ensure that this is a real slog. The 3m1f contest could be used as a Grand National trial with the four miler at the Festival also likely to be considered for any horse that performs well in such testing conditions. Other runners in the race include The Minack for Paul Nicholls and Merry King who is a strong stayer for Jonjo O'Neill and Richie McLernon.
The ground will be just as testing over at Naas on Saturday afternoon where the Limestone Lad Hurdle is the feature race. Twelve months ago it was Solwhit who won this race before he went to the Festival and won the World Hurdle which highlights how important this Grade 3 contest can be. The most interesting runner in the Naas field will be Dunguib who will be returning to the track for the first time since the Champion Hurdle of 2011.
The Philip Fenton trained 11-year-old was a superstar during the first part of his career with his win in the 2009 Champion Bumper one of the best Festival performances in recent memory. He didn't quite live up to that in the latter years but it will be fascinating to see him back on track after such a long absence. Dunguib will however clearly improve for the run and up against the likes of Mourad and Rule The world among others, it promises to be a hot renewal of the Limestone Lad this season.
Sizing Gold might well be the one to follow in the Grade 2 Woodlands Park 100 Club Novice Chase over three miles on the same Naas card. The Henry de Bromhead trained seven-year-old is highly thought of and another good run from him in this one could well see his price for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham contract.
There is a decent meeting at Fairyhouse on Sunday with some nice horses set to take their chance. There isn't a star name on show but there is a nice mares novice hurdle over 2m3f which should produce a decent winner. Willie Mullins has a strong hand in the entries with the Champion Trainer likely to run both Vicky De L'Oasis and Gitane Du Berlais in the race and both of them are expected to be in the mix at Fairyhouse.