This weekend the jumping action takes centre stage with decent cards at Wetherby and Ascot.
The Charlie Hall Chase is Wetherby's feature and this three mile one furlong, £100,000 race has attracted some familiar names amongst its eight declared runners.
Diamond Harry is 9/4 favourite with Sky Bet. Time for Rupert hails from the in-form Paul Webber stable and is 3/1. Last year's winner Nacarat is 5/1 to repeat the feat under last year's winning jockey Sam Thomas. Ruby Walsh has been persuaded by Paul Nicholls to take the ride on 9/2 shot Poquelin. Weird Al is 9/1 for new trainer Donald McCain and this horse has shown a liking for Wetherby in the past. Chicago Grey is the same price for Gordon Elliott.
Nick Williams is keen on the chance of Diamond Harry. The horse has an exceptional record having won 10 of his 13 starts but he has been off since November when winning the Hennessy last year.
Williams is being positive, though, and says the horse is normally straight first time out and that is supported by the fact he has won on his first run of the season every time so far. This is an ultra-competitive renewal of the race though and Paul Webber has his horses in top form at this early stage of the season.
Time for Rupert was last seen finishing a disappointing fifth in the RSA Chase - he broke a blood vessel at Cheltenham.
Although Nacarat won this race last year it looks like a more competitive race this time round.
Poquelin is the highest rated in the field and he also has his first run back over a trip he has never run over before. The intention with him it is to see if he stays sufficiently to contest the Gold Cup in March - if he does stay he will be a threat to the rest of Saturday's runners.
So, Weird Al has his first run for McCain having switched from Ian Williams. He was pulled up in the Gold Cup on his last start having burst a blood vessel and he is a horse who has had physical problems. There could be more to come from him if his new trainer gets to the bottom of him.
So, this is an incredibly competitive race but I'm keen to have Diamond Harry on my side and he's my selection. For those of you entering the skybet.com/RUK predict the Charlie Hall 1-2-3 challenge, I hope Time For Rupert and Weird Al follow him home.
There are four tickets for Cheltenham's New Year's Day meeting up for grabs and £500 worth of free bets. It's a great prize and the competition is free to enter so why not have a go? Fair Along can win the West Yorkshire Hurdle on the supporting card once again for Phillip Hobbs - he has won it for the last two years.
United behind Irish raider Muirhead on Ascot mission
Over at Ascot there is another £100,000 contest, their Grade 3 Handicap Chase over three miles.
There is a strong Irish challenge headed by Noel Meade's Muirhead. He won the Munster National last time out and comes here fit and well. He put up a classy performance there under Paul Carberry who rides again. Bideford Legend is another of the Irish challengers for Charles Byrnes - he was second to Muirhead last time out. Phillip Hobbs and Richard Johnson team up with top weight Quinz who pulled up in the National on his last start. It's Muirhead for me.
Kumbeshwar the one to beat with sights lowered in Listed grade
Also at Ascot their two-mile Handicap Hurdle is worth a closer look. Kumbeshwar is one of the market leaders and has been well supported in the run up to the race. It's wide open though with Third Intention and Topolski also in with a strong chance. The consistent Kumbeshwar represents Alan King and has his first run since finishing second in Grade 1 company at Punchestown in May.
Topolski is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles in the spring including in Grade 2 company at Aintree. He had a recent run on the flat at Newmarket for his trainer David Arbuthnot. Third Intention is staying down the hurdles route for Colin Tizzard, this flat-bred four-year-old ran well in the Triumph before bolting up at Cheltenham in a Novice Hurdle in April. I think I'm going to go with Alan King's horse who is dropping back into handicap company from good efforts in Grade 1s in the spring.
Killavullan is next step for Born To Sea to enhance Classic claims
Keep an eye on Born to Sea in the Killavullan Stakes at Leopardstown on Sunday. John Oxx's colt, who is closely related to Sea the Stars amongst other equine royalty, is currently 9/1 with Sky Bet for next year's 2000 Guineas and he looks sure to enhance those claims at the weekend.
See Red at a tasty 25/1 in race that stops a Nation
There is also some decent flat racing to look forward to as the season enters its final week.
Paul Hanagan looks to have the championship sewn up, but Silvestre de Sousa is giving him a last minute scare. (1/6 and 7/2 with Sky Bet respectively). However, the Brazilian is heading out to Australia for the race that stops a nation, the Melbourne Cup, at Flemington on Tuesday morning.
The Aussie's hate this prize leaving their shores but they may have to suffer the indignity once again as there is a very strong international challenge headed by the French trained Americain (7/2 favourite) who is bidding to repeat last year's win in the race on his final start for French trainer Alain de Royer Dupre.
It's a tough ask, though, as only five horses have ever won this race twice. However, he couldn't have run a better trial than he did at Moonee Valley recently and has a favourite's chance. The stats look to be against him though and he is plenty short enough for this two-mile Group 1.
Another French trained runner, Dunaden (7/1), may have to contest the race without jockey Craig Williams who was in the saddle for his win in the Geelong Cup on his first run in Australia. The popular Aussie is suspended for careless riding but he is in the process of appealing the ban, but if he is unsuccessful then Christophe Lemaire will ride. If Williams does ride he will be bidding to become the first jockey to win the Caulfield Cup, Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup in the same year.
Lucas Cranach has his second start for Anthony Freedman having left Germany - he is 10/1 and was fifth in the Caulfield Cup. It's expected the track at Flemington will suit this horse who was only beaten by five lengths by subsequent Arc winner Danedream in Germany in July. Irish Leger joint winner Jukebox Jury is 10/1 for Mark Johnston. Johnston also has a leading chance with 20/1 shot Fox Hunt who will be the mount of Silvestre de Sousa - he won the German Leger on the horse last time out.
Former Aidan O'Brien inmate At First Sight is 14/1 for his new Aussie connections. He is yet to win since arriving in the Southern Hemisphere but he was second in the 2010 Epsom Derby to Workforce. 2008 runner-up Bauer isn't certain to get a run for Luca Cumani, but if he gets in the 16/1 available at the time of writing looks a very good bet. He was third to Dunaden in the Geelong Cup on his last start.
At a bigger price Manighar (also Luca Cumani) at 25/1 is interesting; he was one place in front of Lucas Cranach in the Caulfield Cup last time out. Irish Leger third Red Cadeaux should also be noted.
The horse has been moving well since arriving in Oz and the rain that has fallen on the track will be in his favour. Ed Dunlop could do with more rain for the horse who will be ridden by local jockey Michael Rodd who won the Cup in 2007. He is closely matched on form with Jukebox Jury on that Curragh run and has to be in with a shout at the weights.
There is a nervous wait for Brian Ellison to see if his Ebor winner Moyenne Corniche makes the cut. The horse is currently 25/1 for Tuesday's race. The Godolphin team have been sending runners to contest this race since 1998 but are yet to win it - they have finished runner up three times. Kerrin McEvoy rides 25/1 shot Modun for the boys in blue (they also have 33/1 shot Lost in the Moment - both could run well according to work watchers). Obviously this is a tough race to call, but at the prices I'm going to go for Red Cadeaux each way.
Diamond Harry, Charlie Hall Chase, Wetherby @ 9/4 with Sky Bet
Muirhead, United House Gold Cup Handicap Chase, Ascot
Kumbeshwar, 2m Listed Handicap Hurdle, Ascot
Red Cadeaux, Melbourne Cup, Flemington Park @ 25/1 with Sky Bet (each-way)