Plus points to be earned
Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National clues could be on offer this weekend as the Racing Plus Chase takes centre stage on an excellent Saturday card at Kempton.
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The three-mile handicap has an illustrious roll of honour, with Rhyme 'N' Reason (1988) and Rough Quest (1996) both going on to claim Aintree glory a couple of months after striking gold at Kempton.
Other notable winners include the incomparable Desert Orchid (1990), the brilliant Gloria Victis (2000) and Tom George's dashing grey and dual scorer Nacarat (2009 and 2012).
With the weights for the National now set in stone, Aintree-bound chasers are now free to show their hand over fences safe in the knowledge they are protected from any retrospective action from the handicapper.
Heading the ante-post betting for the Racing Plus Chase is the David Bridgwater-trained Wyck Hill, a horse who handicapper Phil Smith admitted caused him more headaches than most when he was framing his National weights.
The nine-year-old has not been seen since his striking defeat of Katenko at Ascot in December, form which looks white-hot in light of the runner-up's subsequent progress.
Katenko himself could head for Kempton before a possible tilt at both the Gold Cup and the National, while others in the Racing Plus Chase mix include Rolling Aces, Rocky Creek, the hat-trick seeking Nacarat and Ted Walsh's two Aintree hopes - Seabass and Colbert Station.
The main supporting races should all provide some much-needed pointers for the Cheltenham Festival, with the racingplus.co.uk Pendil Novices' Chase suggested as a possible port of call for Arkle favourite Simonsig.
The Racing UK Subscribe For Cheltenham Adonis Juvenile Hurdle has proved a super guide for the Triumph Hurdle in recent years, with Mysilv, Katarino, Snow Drop, Penzance, Soldatino and Zarkandar all winning both races.
It is not unknown for a four-year-old to land the William Hill Dovecote Novices' Hurdle on the same card, as Grumeti did last year before going on to finish third in the Triumph when favourite.
One way or another the ante-post betting for the world's most famous steeplechase is likely to be shaken up to some extent this weekend, with the ever-informative At The Races Bobbyjo Chase the key attraction at Fairyhouse.
The Willie Mullins-trained Hedgehunter won the race in 2005 before justifying favouritism on Merseyside in April and this year the champion trainer is set to saddle leading Aintree hope Prince De Beauchene.
The ten-year-old won the Bobbyjo last year before injury forced him to miss his trip to Aintree, but he appeared as good as ever when winning over hurdles at Limerick on his seasonal return.
Newcastle stage one of their bigger meetings of the campaign on the same afternoon, with stamina sure to be at a premium in the four-mile-one-furlong Betfred Eider Chase.
Comply Or Die won the marathon in 2008 before going on to win the Grand National the same year, but it has otherwise not been a great pointer to Aintree in recent years, perhaps due to how the National now puts more emphasis on speed than it once did.
There is Listed action on the all-weather at Lingfield, with the sprinters going in the bluesquare.com Cleves Stakes, while some smart middle-distance performers will be in the reckoning for the Blue Square Bet Winter Derby Trial.
Fontwell's totepool National Spirit Hurdle lights up an otherwise ordinary afternoon of racing in Britain on Sunday, although there could be a few decent performers in action on a fine card across the Irish Sea at Naas.
Huntingdon stages the Listed Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle on Thursday, better known as the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices' Hurdle.