As always on a Friday afternoon, we look forward to another cracking weekend of jumps action with some top class racing taking place on both sides of the Irish Sea this weekend. The Cheltenham Festival is now drawing ever closer and the trials continue to come thick and fast over the next couple of days, with plenty of potential Festival hopefuls set to take their chances.
There is a top card at Kempton Park on Saturday afternoon with the re-arranged Tolworth Hurdle an added bonus for punters turning up at the Surrey track. The race was moved from Sandown last weekend due to the weather and there's a nice field engaged for the final UK Grade One Novice hurdle before Cheltenham. All eyes will be on The Liquidator who is likely to go off favoruite for trainer David Pipe. The six-year-old has won both of his starts so far this season and a win here in good company, will only further enhance his claims for the Supreme Novices Hurdle, for which he is currently a best price 14/1.
There is no no doubt that The Liquidator sets the standard in the Tolworth but it is by no means a one horse race. One of his main threats is likely to come from Upazo who will head over from Ireland for top trainer, Willie Mullins. Jockey Ruby Walsh will also make the trip for the ride and that alone ensures that he is to be respected in such a big race.
Elsewhere on the Kempton card, the feature race of the day is the Lanzarote Hurdle over 2m5f. The Lanzarote is always an interesting race and Saphir Du Rheu is perhaps the class act of the field. The Paul Nicholls trained five-year-old is towards the head of the ante-post Coral Cup betting currently at 12/1 and a good run here could see those odds shorten even further.
Old favourite, Captain Chris, will also be on show at Kempton on Saturday with the Philip Hobbs horse running in the William Hill Chase over 2m4110y. He always runs up to a good mark but he faces a tough challenge here against Twinlight, who is another interesting runner for the Mullins and Walsh combo. Twinlight is currently in the betting for both the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase at the Festival and if he is to feature in either of those races, he will need to prove himself at Kempton first.
Punchestown is also playing host to a top card over in Ireland on Saturday afternoon with more Cheltenham Festival clues likely to be gleaned. The Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle is a Grade 2 affair over two miles and like the Tolworth, it could have a major impact on the Supreme Novices Hurdle betting.
Willie Mullins, unsurprisingly, has a strong hand in this one with the lightly raced Vautour set to start as a hot favourite. The five-year-old won his only start of the season at Navan back at the start of December and at this stage he really could be anything. There have been plenty of good vibes from the yard about Vautour though which has been enough to see him fighting for favouritism in the Supreme betting recently. This will be his toughest test yet though against the likes of Easter Hunt, who will be the main threat from the Gigginstown House stud team in the race.
The Champion Irish Trainer will also be at Navan on Sunday afternoon with the highly promising UnDe Sceaux set for his latest start. The six-year-old is unbeaten in five starts and he will put that record on the line in the Follow Navan on Facebook Hurdle over two miles on Sunday. Un De Sceaux hasn't beat too much yet but he is as short as 12/1 for the Champion Hurdle at the moment, which ensures that he really should be winning this one if he is to feature at Cheltenham in March.