We highlight the 10 most significant runners in Britain and Ireland this weekend with the Cheltenham Festival on the horizon.
If Haydock beats the elements then there could be early fireworks with Nicky Henderson's Allart putting his reputation on the line under a winners' penalty in the Grade Two novices' chase which opens the card.
Twice a winner over timber en route to a perfectly creditable fifth behind Shishkin in the Sky Bet Supreme at last year's Festival, the Ronnie Bartlett-owned seven-year-old overcame a few mistakes to beat Fiddlerontheroof by four and three-quarter lengths on his chasing debut at Ascot last month.
That race has spawned some real stars over the years, including Simonsig for the same owner-trainer combination, and with the yard's Shishkin bossing the betting for the Sporting Life Arkle already, it'll be interesting if Henderson looks to have a pop at Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices' Chase with this fella.
He'll have to be win - and win well - this weekend if he's to pique the attention of Gordon Elliott and co but a slicker display in the jumping department will signal progress being made and he's evidently got a serious engine when everything falls into place. (Matt Brocklebank, Sporting Life)
Magic Of Light is reportedly being aimed at another crack at the Grand National in April but connections are also expected to be eyeing up the new Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Before all that, a third tilt at Ascot’s Grade Two over a trip just short of three miles this Saturday.
She beat Sensulano four and three-quarter lengths in the race last year and there was eight lengths back to the same rival when she scored back over fences at Newbury when last seen, so there’s no suggestion of Jessica Harrington’s 10-year-old losing any of her zest for the game.
She’s clearly just as effective over hurdles as she is fences and though regular rider Robbie Power isn’t around to take the reins, Jonjo O’Neill junior isn’t a bad replacement to call upon.
Soft ground suits Magic Of Light well and this looks a fascinating match-up between herself and Roksana, who is really useful on her day too. (MB)
Won by the likes of Cinders And Ashes, Aso, Neon Wolf, First Flow and Mister Fisher in recent seasons, the Grade Two Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main has been a pretty significant pointer to some very smart horses.
Connections of all five runners will be hoping their representative can live up to that kind of billing at some stage, but trainer Tom Symonds already has a pretty good idea where he stands with Llandinabo Lad, who effectively came out of the Kennel Gate at Ascot as the best horse in the field given he was beaten just under three lengths when conceding 5lb to winner, My Drogo.
This son of Malinas was previously unbeaten over obstacles after novice wins at Bangor and Haydock so the return to this venue looks a plus if anything and while he’s got to give 5lb and up to the rest of the field again, he clearly sets the form standard.
His mark of 141 is an interesting one as it would potentially open up the opportunity to down the handicap route if the Cheltenham Festival was indeed on the radar. (MB)
We’re heading into that part of the season when young novices can emerge from just about anywhere and really begin to make a name for themselves, and there’s a good chance Henry De Bromhead’s Mr Incredible will be able to put his hat into the Cheltenham Festival ring with a good showing in the maiden hurdle at Navan.
Second to a nice horse in Carrolls Cottage (Limerick maiden winner since) in a point-to-point in October, the five-year-old recruit from Colin Bowe could hardly have shaped much better on his Rules debut.
He was pitched into a traditionally warm Leopardstown maiden over the Christmas period and, after jumping well barring the final flight, ended up second to Willie Mullins’ Gaillard Du Mesnil.
Quite what he met there will be revealed in the fullness of time (Dublin Racing Festival) but Mr Incredible looks to have a rather bright future himself and he could end up contesting the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle or Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham if all goes swimmingly this weekend. (MB)
Unlike the rest of us, Silver Sheen had to miss the 2020 Cheltenham Festival but he had appeared on British soil earlier in the year to win the hotly-contested Pertemps qualifier at Warwick where he was successful – albeit narrowly – over Doc Penfro from an official BHA mark of 130.
That didn’t look too extraordinary at the time but the race has since thrown up seven subsequent winners, including the Cheltenham Festival winner Sire Du Berlais, who was back in fourth.
So after 378 days away, it’ll be really interesting to see how Silver Sheen gets on as he was one of the antepost market leaders for the Pertemps Final in last year’s build-up and there is still time to get him qualified again if that’s the way connections are thinking.
This handicap – in which he competes from a potentially lenient Irish mark of 133 – is over two and a half miles but the son of Sulamani showed more than enough pace when winning his maiden at Wexford over the same trip in October 2019, and perhaps it will open up even more possibilities with this year’s Festival in mind (Coral Cup and Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle are both contested around this distance). (MB)
Royal Pagaille, a €70,000 recruit from France, looked nothing out of the ordinary in two starts for Venetia Williams last season, but it has been a completely different story this term.
He readily brushed aside a promising rival over just shy of two and three-quarter miles at Haydock on his reappearance in December and then made a mockery of his opening handicap mark over three miles at Kempton later in the month, scoring with a lot more in hand than the winning margin of three and a quarter lengths would suggest.
A 16lb rise in the weights demands much more, but Royal Pagaille is an improving chaser who has yet to reach the ceiling of his ability, handles heavy ground and forces five of his rivals to race from out of the handicap, so it's easy to understand why he's been installed as favourite.
Giving weight to Sam Brown will not be an easy task, however, as that lightly raced rival is also extremely effective when the mud is flying – which it will be if Haydock is given the green light – and looks well treated on his wide-margin win in a Grade 2 at the course last season. (Tony McFadden, Timeform)
Heavy ground will test Buveur d'Air's fitness on his return from 420 days off the track, but the conditions of the race certainly suit the dual Champion Hurdle winner as he receives weight from both rivals, including 6 lb from chief threat Ballyandy.
Buveur d'Air may struggle to reproduce the sort of form that saw him win back-to-back Champion Hurdles in 2017 and 2018, but even if you rate him on the level he achieved during the 2018/19 season he still comes out clear on these terms.
He tops Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings by 11 lb and should have too much for his two opponents. (TM)
It is undoubtedly an intriguing renewal of the Clarence House Chase, featuring three horses that have shown a level of form deemed top-class on Timeform's scale.
However, while Defi du Seuil needs to bounce back from a couple of underwhelming displays and the lightly-raced Waiting Patiently attempts to back up a big recent effort in the King George (over nearly a mile further), Politologue's credentials look rock-solid.
His wide-margin wins in the Champion Chase and Tingle Creek represent the best form on offer – albeit narrowly – and he is essentially an in-form, straightforward and reliable chaser who looks sure to give a good account under optimum conditions.
Harry Skelton got a brilliant tune out of him the last twice and won't be in the saddle this time, but Harry Cobden is an excellent substitute and has already won a Grade 1 on the grey - the 2017 Tingle Creek. The superb form of the Paul Nicholls yard is another factor in his favour. (TM)
It's crunch time for Allaho at Thurles on Sunday.
Willie Mullins' horse was among the best novice hurdlers in the spring of 2019 and he was among the best novice chasers last year too, but doing it in open company this time around hasn't quite gone to plan. Not yet anyway.
A well-held sixth in the heavy fog behind Min and a bunch of other stablemates in the John Durkan first time out, Allaho did clearly step up on that form when fourth behind A Plus Tard - in the same ownership but different trainer in Henry De Bromhead - in the Savills Chase over Christmas.
It was a good run in fairness, but not one which suggested he was on the path to glory in a Gold Cup or Ryanair at the Cheltenham Festival.
One major positive is that the horse has seemingly come to life more after the turn of the year in each of his first two seasons with Mullins, which makes the Grade Two Thurles Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase such an important assignment.
It's hard to see the drop back to two and a half miles proving a negative and the 7lb he receives from main market rival Battleoverdoyen should clearly help too. (MB)
No Stattler in the final declarations for the W. T. O'Grady Memorial Irish EBF Novice Hurdle (was entered at the five-day stage), but very much a race to have on the radar with Cheltenham in mind.
Heather Rocco could be anything, Torygraph is a work in progress and it's obviously too soon to be writing off the Mullins-trained Fighter Allen after pulling up last time, but Gentlemansgame is the really exciting one here.
He looked all about stamina when winning his point-to-point over three miles in October so it was hard not to be impressed by the fact he won his maiden hurdle at Cork over two miles earlier this month.
He didn't just win, either, galloping his rivals into submission from a long way out before coasting home to score by 21 lengths eased down.
There's no great substance to the form just yet but this looks a grey going places and stepping up to two miles, seven furlongs this weekend looks the perfect move to show him in an even greater light.
The five-year-old gets a bit of weight from the older horses too and the spot of 25/1 (bet365) for this year's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle could look extremely generous by the close of play. (MB)