Festival clues on offer on Saturday
Leopardstown, Warwick and Newbury combine to offer a host of Cheltenham Festival clues on Saturday.
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Saturday's Irish Hennessy has the potential to have the biggest impact on the Betfred Gold Cup market so far in 2013 as Sir Des Champs and Flemenstar renew rivalries.
The latter probably needs to win to book his ticket to chasing's Blue Riband event with concerns still looming as regards his stamina.
Surely, any horse who gets beat less than a length in a Lexus Chase gets three miles but there's no denying that this strong-traveller shapes as though he'd be a monster over two and a half, whereas the extra quarter-mile of the Gold Cup would send him close to, if not beyond, breaking point.
That being said, he did finish a short head in front of Sir Des Champs last time and it's therefore no surprise to see the pair virtually inseparable in Sky Bet's antepost market for Saturday's contest.
Should Sir Des Champs win, he'll harden to clear second-favourite behind Bobs Worth and indeed could even join Nicky Henderson's charge at the head of the Gold Cup betting if putting together the sort of imperious display we've been waiting for since he won the Jewson.
Interestingly, no horse has done the Irish Hennessy - Gold Cup double since 1996 but that fact alone won't stop punters piling on the winner of this race should, as expected, it come from either the Peter Casey or Willie Mullins camp.
The card begins with the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle which seems certain to shed more light on the Triumph Hurdle picture.
Mullins is likely to ask Diakali to spearhead his attack on the contest and this French import has been seriously impressive in two starts for the yard so far.
This represents a big hike in class though and in Our Conor, a Flat-bred who is also two-from-two since switched to timber, Diakali faces stiff competition.
Interestingly, John Ferguson has Ruacana entered too and this one, formerly trained by Michael Bell, is also relatively prominent in the Triumph betting after a taking performance at Cheltenham last time out.
Later on the card, Champagne Fever bids to bounce back from a 1/4 reversal when he lines up in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle.
With the likes of Istabraq and Brave Inca on this race's roll-of-honour, it's usually a contest which throws up a top-class horse or two and it's too early to say Champagne Fever won't fall into that category.
However, it's his stablemate Un Atout who stands out having won all three of his starts untroubled to leap towards the head of the betting for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
How he fares against the likes of Waaheb will offer up some collateral form with Jezki, who is currently Sky Bet's 100/30 favourite for the Cheltenham curtain-raiser.
Over at Newbury, the Betfair Super Saturday Chase should see Simonsig step out of novice company for the first time.
Nicky Henderson's freakishly good grey bids to make it a hat-trick of wins in the race for the Seven Barrows team, and it's hard to find a danger among the entries.
However, it will be interesting to see him in a slightly bigger field and Newbury's fences take a little jumping. At around 8/11 for the Racing Post Arkle presently, his price will only go one way if, as expected, Simonsig registers another facile victory.
There is of course an Arkle trial at Warwick in the shape of the Kingmaker Chase, one won by the likes of Long Run and Finian's Rainbow in the past.
Perhaps the most intriguing runner there is Fago, a high-class French import who runs in the colours of the Wylie family for Paul Nicholls.
His jumping impressed on his debut for the yard at Newbury and victory could see him slot in nicely behind Overturn in the Arkle betting.
Back at Newbury, although a handicap the Betfair Hurdle can offer clues for several races at the Festival.
Should My Tent Or Yours provide a welcome tonic for Henderson and owner JP McManus, he could yet trouble the Irish domination of the Supreme market while the likes of Cotton Mill and Grumeti could bid to win this on their way to the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
Long Run's absence from the Betfair Denman Chase removes some of that race's charm but it should nevertheless allow us a final chance to watch Silviniaco Conti in full flow before he heads to the Gold Cup.
Finally, after the Channel 4 cameras turn off there's a cracking three mile novice chase at Newbury, where the likes of Unioniste and Our Father look set to lock horns with the RSA Chase betting likely to be affected.