With just four weekends left until the Cheltenham Festival, the chances of seeing many more graded race contenders beforehand get slimmer as connections prepare for the big one in March.
Handicappers often get a run a little closer to the main event, think Imperial Cup bonus at Sandown, the major pattern race contenders rarely show their faces in public closer to the festival, unless it's a media morning.
A rarely spotted star is Altior who is scheduled to have his comeback run, is it even a comeback at this stage. Anyway, following his defeat when stepped up in trip by Cyrname at Ascot earlier in the season, Altior will look to get back to winning ways on Saturday at Newbury.
Is it the end of the line for #altior?
❌Beaten by Cyrname at Ascot
❌ King George bid - ABORTED
❌ Desert Orchid bid - ABORTED
❌ Won't race at Kempton Saturday
🤦🏻♂️What is going on with the superstar chaser? pic.twitter.com/FHsmA3r3fz
— TWO FROM H⭕ME 🏇 (@TwoFromHome1) January 8, 2020
Nicky Henderson's stable star took the same route to Champion Chase glory in 2018 but following his defeat and the laboured nature of his victories last season, the brightest of equine star's lustre has faded somewhat.
However, the son of High Chaparral is 14 wins from 15 chase starts, and Henderson has been clear about Altior's intended target. It's all systems go for an intriguing renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase if Altior can get back on track in the Betfair Exchange Chase on Saturday afternoon at 2.25.
The feature handicap hurdle at Newbury is the Betfair Hurdle, recently the race has been dominated by novices with several winners of this race going on to contend in the festival opener rather than try to do a handicap double with a race like the County Hurdle.
Get involved with the latest @JSRacingClub horse Risk & Co. The last club horse Thebannerkingrebel is now preparing for a trip to @CheltenhamRaces for the festival. See what @jamiesnowden has to say about the new recruit at a windy @LambournGallops pic.twitter.com/Lzqwjmwlc3
— Jamie Snowden Racing Club (@JSRacingClub) February 21, 2018
The market reflects this relatively recent trend with Mack the Man, Thebannerkingrebel and Never Adapt, who are all novices, disputing favouritism.
This weekend's meeting a year ago at Naas supplied two subsequent Cheltenham Festival winners in the shape of City Island and Band of Outlaws.
This year the order has been jigged around with some unique race times, the Opera Hat chase is off at 1.37. So punters will have to set their watches accurately for the two novice hurdle races, off at the very accurate times of 2.12 and 3.57.
While the bumper at 4.32 is one that has thrown up a decent winner including in 2017 when subsequent Cheltenham festival runner Carter Mckay obliged.
Tiger Roll is scheduled to have a preparation run for Cheltenham next week at Navan in the Boyne Hurdle. Some Cross Country race contenders will line up in the opener at Punchestown on Sunday.
Not many would have predicted Yanworth would arrive here in 2017, when he was favourite for the Neptune Hurdle, just touched off by fellow reprobate, Yorkhill.
Former Champion Hurdle contender Yanworth will get his first taste of @CheltenhamRaces' cross country course on Friday 🐎 Read what Enda Bolger has to say about the nine-year-old plus his other two runners in the race >>>https://t.co/boUmJbZdhd pic.twitter.com/qdiWxCdPzU
— Racing TV (@RacingTV) December 12, 2019
Yanworth is on a retrieval mission having fallen at Cheltenham when last seen, a comprehensive victory here would spark soem life into the Cheltenham Cross-Country market.
Elsewhere this weekend former gold Cup winner Native River and former RASA winner Might Bite renew their rivalry at Newbury in the Denman Chase, this pair could also come up against Tiger Roll later in the season, but in the Grand National not at Cheltenham.