This weekend throws up a couple of key races with regards to the Cheltenham Festival, and considering there’s less than 5 weeks to go, it’s time to take notice.

First off, it’s the Denman Chase at Newbury, where a small field of 6 go to post. The eye catcher for me is the booking of Barry Geraghty on Harry Topper. The horse craves this tough ground, and with a top man on board, he has to be fancied. Whether he lines up in the Festival will depend on the weather I’d imagine. Unioniste for Nicholls and Fehily was a winner last timeout and sure has some talent. On old form he’ll be the one to beat, and connections will be hoping that the first time cheek pieces will make the difference. He’s entered in the Gold Cup along with the Grand National – I wouldn’t fancy him taking a chance at the latter though at only seven years old. Coneygree is my RSA fancy, and connections have hinted at a tilt at the Gold Cup if he goes well here against the big boys. To me it would be a shame to go down that route, when he has years ahead of him. If he jumps here like he did at Kempton it will be a sight to be seen. RSA favourite Kings Palace also runs this weekend, but only faces two rivals. Houblon Des Obeaux has been a great servant to Venetia Williams, and his run behind Many Clouds in the Hennessy was as gutsy as you’ll see. That run, along with a finish behind the talented The Young Master at Ascot shows his capabilities, and he’s sure to go well. He has an entry for the Gold Cup. Taquin De Seuil will need to improve on this seasons runs so far, and now that Jonjo O’Neill’s string are showing their form again, he should do so too. He’ll have to prove that he can get the trip and that he still has the form of old, but you can’t rule him out. If all goes well here, we could see him in either the Ryanair or Gold Cup come March. Double Ross who completes the line-up, is decent on his day, but this season he has only managed to complete in one of his four runs. This looks tough though, and trainer Twiston-Davies seems to have his horses primed for March. We could see him in either the Ryanair, Gold Cup or Grand National.

The Game Spirit Chase at Newbury focuses on the comeback of Sire De Grugy for the Moore family. In his first start of the season, after a dream year, connections will be hoping that the injury is behind them all, and that they can kick on to retaining the Champion Chase. He faces five rivals, which include Uxizandre, Mr Mole, Upsilon Blue and Karinga Dancer. Interestingly, AP McCoy has opted to ride Mr Mole instead of Uxizandre, who flopped last time out at Leopardstown, on ground that didn’t suit. Both McManus horses have entries for the Champion Chase, with Uxizandre also holding one for the Ryanair.

On Sunday at Leopardstown the Irish Hennessy will hope to give us all some clues for the Gold Cup come March, with most holding an entry for the race. Last years winner and runner up take their chance along with six others. Ruby Walsh has opted to ride last years Gold Cup second On His Own, over Boston Bob who finished second and fourth respectively in the Lexus. AP is making the journey over to ride the fancied Carlingford Lough, who finished fifth in the Lexus. Gold Cup holder Lord Windermere will need to improve from his run in the Lexus. He should improve race after race, so you’d have to feel that he will only be on top form come March. He was also given an entry for the Grand National this week. Ted Walsh’s Foxrock makes the leap out of handicap company having won the BoyleSports Chase. With First Lieutenant running here he’s unlikely to be running in Haydock’s Grand National Trial next week. Gordon Elliott’s Roi Du Mee, Noel Meade’s Texas Jack and Henry de Bromhead’s Home Farm complete the list.

The unfortunate news came this week of Dynaste having to miss the remainder of the season. The Ryanair chase winner returned sore after finishing behind Many Clouds last time out, and won’t be able to retain his crown this season. Other Festival hopes missing the season include Present View, Champagne West & Oscar Barton. One hoping to put his injury behind him is Grand National hope Teaforthree, who was a nice winner of a Hunter Chase at Bangor on Friday, with Irish jockey Jamie Codd on board. The aim looks to be to get another run into the horse in the next ten days, with the hope to qualify for Cheltenham’s Foxhunters come March.

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