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With less than a month to go until the start of the Cheltenham Festival this weekend sees a number of significant trials across Britain and Ireland. Ascot is the principal meeting in England where the Ascot Chase features some leading contenders for the Ryanair Chase. There are also important trials for the Triumph Hurdle and Stayers’ Hurdle at Haydock while the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton features a couple of Champion Hurdle outsiders. There are also some Cheltenham hopefuls among the entries for the meetings at Gowran Park (Saturday) and Navan (Sunday) in Ireland.
The big race at Ascot on Saturday is the £150,000 Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase over two miles and five furlongs. This has proved an informative trial for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham in the past and several of this year’s entries are on course for that event. Saint Calvados is currently 10-1 for the Ryanair after his eye-catching third in the King George VI Chase. Now back racing at his optimum trip, he will be difficult to beat.
Rivals include Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher who beat last weekend’s Denman Chase winner Eldorado Allen last time out. Fakir D’Oudairies could make the trip across the Irish Sea and was runner-up to Allaho in last season’s Ryanair. With last year’s Ascot Chase winner Dashel Drasher also in the mix, it promises to be a cracker.
Colin Tizzard runs his two Cheltenham Gold Cup entries at Ascot with Lostintranslation in the Ascot Chase and Fiddlerontheroof carrying to weight in the Swinley Chase. Tizzard seems to be favouring a tilt at the Grand National with his Ladbrokes Trophy runner-up but the picture will be become clearer this weekend.
It is Grand National Trial day at Haydock and the going there looks certain to be heavy. The Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle could serve up some Triumph Hurdle clues with Porticello and Iceo still holding Cheltenham entries. Gary Moore has warned that Porticello won’t run at the Festival unless the going is soft but an impressive win on Saturday would make the Triumph hard to resist.
Thomas Darby looks to have a winning opportunity in the Rendlesham Hurdle for Olly Murphy. He is a 25-1 shot for the Stayers’ Hurdle after finishing fourth to Champ at Ascot in December. Opposition could include last year’s winner Third Wind and the progressive mare Molly Ollys Wishes, currently 14-1 for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. Other Cheltenham entries to note at Haydock include Hillcrest and Green Book in the Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices’ Hurdle and Bob And Co in the Hunters’ Chase.
Over at Wincanton, the Kingwell Hurdle could produce a lively Champion Hurdle outsider. David Pipe’s Adagio has not raced since finishing second in the Greatwood Hurdle in November. Monmiral was an outstanding juvenile but was well beaten on his only start this season in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. They face a formidable opponent in Goshen who romped to a 22 lengths victory here 12 months’ ago.
Over in Ireland, the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park on Saturday could see Champion Hurdle entries Quilixios and Teahupoo renew rivalry. Teahupoo fought back tenaciously to win by half a length at Limerick last time they met. Gordon Elliott has a strong hand in Sunday’s Grade 2 Ten Up Novice Chase at Navan with Cheltenham hopefuls Farouk D’Alene and Run Wild Fred both entered.