There are some true tests of our best national hunt horses this weekend with quality cards at Haydock and Ascot to name just two.
Haydock's feature race is the Betfair Chase, a Grade 1 event that has attracted some of the finest chasers in training, in fact it looks to be the best renewal of this race since its introduction in 2005.
The field is headed by Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth who starts his season in a race as tough as any he will line up in this term.
I don't expect we'll see a great deal of Nicky Henderson's charge this season as he only ran twice last term (winning the Hennessy and then the Cheltenham Blue Riband) and he just had the three starts the season before.
Gullinbursti's last five runs have come over fences, but these mini fences won't make the transition too difficult.
Quotes of the week
That's no big deal if he can keep reproducing those performances and he has a good record after a break so should be ready for business.
Would Bobs Worth have won the Gold Cup if Silviniaco Conti had stood up? Well, that horse has a chance to take him on again as he is one of his seven rivals and I fancy him to repeat his win in this race last year.
He's a horse that is best fresh and this is his first run since April when he had a good confidence booster at Aintree when putting in a clear round to finish third in the Bowl Chase. It's easy to forget that he is still only seven years old and I'm looking forward to following him this season.
Dynaste comes here instead of running at Cheltenham last weekend so he starts his second season chasing against the best opposition possible. I loved Tom Scudamore's analogy in the press this week as he compared his chance in this race to that of George Groves against Carl Froch, who fight on Saturday night, (Froch is 2/7 to beat his opponent).
Whilst it may not be such an uphill task, he will have to be on the top of his game when he steps into the ring at the Lancashire venue at 3pm on Saturday afternoon.
He didn't do much wrong last term, winning all bar one of his starts, his only defeat coming in the Jewson at the Cheltenham festival when he was second to Benefficient. The step back up to three miles and soft ground will aid his cause and he should have more improvement in him.
Cue Card is on a retrieval mission after his disappointing reappearance in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter. There were possible excuses for the Ryanair winner as he slipped going into one of the fences and he had plenty of weight to give to his rivals. That run aside there is some doubt over his ability to truly stay this three-mile trip. Connections obviously think he can and he is bred to stay.
Tidal Bay is reunited with Sam Twiston-Davies who gave him a superbly cool ride to win the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby. He's not a straightforward ride, but Sam kidding and cajoled him along and clearly has the measure of him.
It was great to see him looking as good as ever as he rises to 13 yeara of age. Ruby Walsh gave him a brilliant ride to win the Lexus Chase last December and there's no doubt this horse has the ability to win this race if things drop right.
Long Run blotted his copybook in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby earlier this month when ploughing through one of the fences in the back straight and trailing in fifth behind Harry Topper. It has since transpired that he came back with some blood in his lungs which would explain his lacklustre display.
For a horse that had never finished out of the top two in all his previous starts, he could be being overlooked here and he maybe one for brave each-way punters at the likely prices.
His jumping has always had its flaws though, hence the amount of time he has spent in the company of jumping guru Yogi Breisner, and Breisner has been working on his fencing recently, too. He was second in this race last year (The Giant Bolster third) and filled the same spot the year before.
It's worth bearing in mind that the Haydock fences have had a bit of a makeover before the season start and are expected to be more like the solid, bigger fences of old, rather than the flimsier fences of recent years - that won't play to his strengths.
The Giant Bolster doesn't look quite up to this mark but should run his usual decent race and the field is made up by the Gordon Elliott trained Roi du Mee who beat Sizing Europe in the JNWine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal at the start of the month. He jumps very well and that will stand him in good stead round here.
I'm going with Silviniaco Conti in a red hot contest, but with horses of this calibre taking him on it's hard to be confident.
The Fixed Brush Hurdle has attracted a field of 19 (2 reserves) with David Pipe's Gevrey Chambertin back at the scene of one of his big wins last season when he won a decent Novices' race over these brush hurdles at this meeting last year.
Tom Scudamore is booked to ride the horse, but I'd have plenty of respect for the Pipe horse at the bottom of the weights, Western Warhorse, if he gets in (he is currently second reserve).
Last year's winner Trustan Times has top weight to carry for Tim Easterby and is 6lbs higher in the ratings this time round. He was fourth behind Tidal Bay at Wetherby last time out (when joint favourite) and that run should have tightened him up for this.
Not many trainers have their horses in better form than Emma Lavelle who is enjoying a resurgence this season and she saddles Gullinbursti. His last five runs have come over fences, but these mini fences won't make the transition too difficult. He scooted up at Market Rasen earlier this month on his first start since January and he is well regarded by his handler.
Master of the Sea represents Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies. He was hugely progressive last season and he may not have stopped improving. The trip looks suitable and he will enjoy soft ground, the tongue tie is on for the first time on Saturday and he can run well but the stable are having a fairly quiet month.
Two Rockers hails from the inform yard of Alan King. This six-year-old is a point-to-point winner, and has since won three novice hurdles, one of which came at this track in graded company. His only defeat came in the Albert Bartlett behind The New One on ground that was probably too quick for him. He has his first run in a handicap here and is respected in this red hot contest.
Ely Brown is another horse to watch out for, he is trained at the Oxfordshire stables of Charlie Longsdon. After he won on his reappearance at Aintree Longsdon said he would run over fences next, well I guess this is a good transition. Charlie Deutsch won on him last time out and takes a useful 7lbs off his back.
Nicky Henderson's Utopie des Bordes has the assistance of Barry Geraghty. She isn't the biggest but ran a promising race at Wincanton on her seasonal reappearance (dropped a pound since then). It's interesting she runs here rather than against her own sex at Kempton on Monday.
It's a red-hot contest but I'm going to go with Gullinbursti to keep up Emma Lavelle's great run. If Western Warhorse were to get a run I'd want him on side too, he's currently 10/1 with Sky Bet.
To Ascot now and the Amlin Chase sees the reappearance of Al Ferof. Daryl Jacob heads to the track to ride this horse rather than head up to Haydock for boss Paul Nicholls. The grey has had just over a year off the track, but has apparently done very well during his time off and is stronger than ever. This looks a great starting point for the eight-year-old and I really hope he can win this en-route to bigger targets (he's 12/1 with Sky Bet for the King George).
His last start was a winning one in the 2012 Paddy Power Gold Cup but a tendon injury curtailed his season and with another year on his back he should stay the King George trip well this term. He is effective over the 2m 3f of this race and he apparently went well in a racecourse gallop this month which will have helped knock some of the rust off him.
The Philip Hobbs trained Captain Chris has to give weight away to all his rivals. He usually goes well after a break so has that in his favour and the decent ground at Ascot is also up his street. He falls just short of top class, but should be up to running well in this slightly lower grade.
Nicky Henderson has Captain Conan and French Opera entered. Captain Conan was a very smart novice last season and he proved this trip was well within his compass when he won the Manifesto Novices' Chase over 2m 4f on his last start at the National meeting. It will be tougher for him this term though.
Williams Wishes should be sharper for his reappearance in the Haldon Gold Cup and he looks capable of further improvement this season for trainer Evan Williams. That was his only defeat over fences and he is still relatively unexposed. He could be one to watch in more strongly run races. I have Al Ferof as one of my horses to follow this season and I hope he can win this and show he is as good as ever.
The Ascot Hurdle could have a potential superstar in the line up as at the time of writing Willie Mullins is planning to bring his unbeaten mare Annie Power over for the race. She comes here as there is so much in her favour. Although she is a Grade 1 winner she only gets a half penalty as it came in a Mares' Novice Hurdle and she also gets a 7lbs mares allowance in this.
So bottom weight for a horse that Willie Mullins thinks very highly of and says she could be anything, it could be an occasion when an odds on shot looks good value. Her main rival looks to be Zarkandar for the Nicholls/Jacob duo.
We finally had it confirmed on Thursday that Richard Hannon is to pass the training licence to his son Richard Junior on the January 1. The news brings with it the end of an era, but I don't expect 'Senior' will be heading anywhere anytime soon.
Hannon was Champion trainer once again this season and I think anyone that has been involved with his operation would tell you that having horses in training with him wasn't just a successful venture, but he made it huge fun, too.
I have no doubt it will be business as usual next season as the duo have been working closely with each other for many years. Hannon often joked that when he handed the licence over not much would change, not even the name on the licence! Good luck to Hannon Junior next season.
Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase @ 5/2 with Sky Bet
Gullinbursti in the Fixed Brush Hurdle @ 6/1 with Sky Bet
Al Ferof in the Amlin Chase @ 7/4 with Sky Bet
Annie Power in the Ascot Hurdle @ 10/11 with Sky Bet