Our top gossip column returns with horses to follow at whichever of Ascot, Haydock, Lingfield, Wincanton and Newcastle get the go-ahead.
1.50 Ascot - Pym
Pym can make it three wins from four starts over fences in a fascinating race for the Grade Two Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices Chase at Ascot on Saturday. This clash between Nicky Henderson's improving gelding, Danny Whizzbang, Sam Brown, Two For Gold and Copperhead looks worth more than the relatively meagre 20 grand winner's money for such a prestigious race, but Pym's form looks very solid and matches those four rivals. The way he hit the line, both in the mud here in November and at Cheltenham last time, bodes well for his chances of handling the testing ground, and the receipt of 2lbs from the three of his main rivals who have won in this grade will also further his chance.
1.15 Ascot - Pipesmoker
Pipesmoker can kick the meeting off on the right note for Henderson in the Thames Materials Novices Hurdle. Very much the stable's second string on his hurdling bow at Cheltenham in December, he produced a hugely promising effort in finishing third to Chantry House, one of Seven Barrows' leading hopes for Cheltenham Festival glory in three and a half weeks' time. He gets a handy 8lbs from Master Debonair and Sporting John, and he should be suited by the more demanding test of stamina this time.
3.50 Haydock - Young Bull
Young Bull should handle the mud well and is fancied to extend his winning sequence to four in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle qualifier at Haydock. Harry Whittington has placed this son of Dubai Destination adeptly to complete the hat-trick for two owners with their roots deeply entrenched in jump racing. At six, he has the capacity to improve further, and overcome the 6lb rise for his most recent success in a good class handicap at Wetherby. The manner of that success suggests he is ready for this step up in trip, and both his trainer and his rider Gavin Sheehan could not be in better form at the moment.
1.30 Haydock - Caribean Boy
French import Caribean Boy ran a blinder on his first appearance for Henderson at Doncaster last month, and he looks worth an interest in the extended two mile three furlong Novices' Limited Handicap at Haydock or the handicap over a similar trip at Wincanton. The weather will determine his destination, but he is sharper for what was his first outing for 21 months on Town Moor, and the handicapper has dropped him a pound or two as well.
Prudhomme (Ascot or Wincanton)
Prudhomme will also be reliant on Storm Dennis for his Saturday day out in a middle-distance handicap hurdle at either the Somerset course or a tougher examination at Ascot, and he looks each-way material wherever he ends up. A winner at Uttoxeter on his hurdling debut in October, he underwent surgery on his breathing after disappointing at Ffos Las next time. He reappeared at Taunton early last month and ran well until tiring in the closing stages, and is expected to step up on that performance this time around.
2.00 Lingfield - Dublin Pharaoh
Roger Varian's Dublin Pharaoh can make it third time lucky in the Ladbrokes Novice Stakes at Lingfield. Made favourite for a Newcastle novice after a promising debut effort at Chelmsford at the end of November, he looked poised to deliver when making smooth headway, over two furlongs out, but he did not quite see his race out as well as newcomers Desert Flyer and Spectrum of Light and was beaten three-quarters of a length. Although the first two have not run subsequently, the form of the race looks sound enough. Dublin Pharaoh has been given plenty of time to recover from what were two pretty quick runs, and looks capable of further improvement.
4.20 Lingfield - Critique
Ed Walker has his team in great nick, and Critique may reward an each-way interest in the Ladbrokes Handicap over a mile and a half. This is the first time this son of Cacique has tackled this trip, and there were signs that both the increase in distance and the fitting of blinkers for the first time would aid his cause after his staying-on effort behind Mr Shady at this course last month. He has been dropped 4lbs, and this look a slightly weaker race.
7.00 Newcastle - Defence Girl
Defence Girl boasts a very interesting pedigree and she is fancied to go close on her racecourse debut in the Ladbrokes Fillies' Novice Stakes (Div I) at Newcastle. A half sister to Postulation, an American Grade Three winner by First Defence, she has been showing up well in her preparatory gallops for Simon Crisford, and the mile will suit her well.
7.30 Newcastle - Morrooj
Morrooj, a stablemate of Dublin Pharoah, can see off Walker's more experienced True Scarlet in the second division at Newcastle. Well fancied on his first appearance at Kempton last month, he lost his chance with a slow start, but did stay on nicely to finish fourth to the Charlie Hills-trained Badrah. The winner is held in some regard by the Faringdon Place team, and Morrooj will know more of what is required this time.