There is light at the end of this incredibly rain-sodden tunnel as in six weeks' time we will be in the midst (or at the end, depending on when you read this article) of the Cheltenham festival.
This weekend however, we are once again hoping it isn't Weather 1-0 Racing! Sandown have an all-chase card as a back-up in case the hurdle course is a wash out as it's currently waterlogged and as the country is set for another soaking on Friday there must be some doubt surrounding the cards at Ffos Las and Wetherby.
Scilly Isles Novices' Chase
If we do get some jump racing, the Grade 1 action comes from Sandown where the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase is their feature.
Oscar Whisky will be short enough if he lines up in this two-mile 4½ furlong contest, as well he might be. He is rated 12lbs superior to anything else in the field and reversed the form with his old foe Taquin du Seuil in the Dipper at Cheltenham last time out. He won't mind the testing ground and the trip is perfect. His festival target is the Jewson Novices' Chase rather than the Arkle as this trip has always suited better than two miles.
Benvolio and Valco de Touzaine are both trained by Paul Nicholls, who will be winding his string up now that January is almost behind us. He has had a relatively quiet January by his high standards and the defeats of Big Buck's, Unioniste and Rocky Creek were disappointing last weekend, but he usually starts churning out a regular flow of winners from here on in.
Benvolio is working his way up the ranks and whilst he's not flashy, he's a grafter and he's also on the up. This is a big step up in class, but he'll enjoy conditions.
The horse closest in the ratings to Oscar Whisky is Valco de Touzaine, and as he's only a five-year-old he gets a 3lbs weight allowance. There has to be a concern about the ground as he appears to enjoy better conditions, but he has run well on heavy so can't be written off. He also holds an entry at Musselburgh on Sunday where the ground may be more to his liking.
It was great to see Alan King back amongst the winners last weekend with his first runners since shutting up shop with a virus. Manyriverstocross is his representative here and whilst this horse has work to do to beat Oscar Whisky, he could be one for each-way punters at the prices.
Unfortunately it looks like we are vulnerable to having a small field here (there are only seven entries), but it's possible he could finish second to the Henderson horse at a track he goes well at and on ground he handles. He jumps very well as we saw on his debut at Exeter and his defeat second time over fences can be excused as the stable were under a bit of a cloud at the time. He'll be my each way selection here.
The Contenders Hurdle
If the hurdles races do go ahead we should get a look at Un De Sceaux who, if he runs for Willie Mullins, will be a short price for the Contenders Hurdle. Like his stablemate Annie Power, this horse is also unbeaten and is also prominent in the betting for the Champion Hurdle (12/1 with Sky Bet behind Mullins' leading Champion Hurdle hope Hurricane Fly at 3s - Annie Power is a 6/1 shot, but has other options at the festival too).
Un Des Sceaux has done everything asked of him to date, but if Melodic Rendezvous is in opposition he will face his stiffest task yet. Melodic Rendezvous was impressive in beating Ptit Zig in Haydock's Champion Hurdle Trial last time out, despite trainer Jeremy Scott feeling he needed the run after coming back from pulled muscles sustained in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November.The plan after Haydock was said to be a race in February (he's in the Betfair Hurdle) and it will be interesting to see if connections are tempted to run him again here to take advantage of ground that will suit. That last run was two weeks ago and that should have been plenty of time to get over those exertions. He was going to have an entry in the Welsh Champion Hurdle, but that isn't the case and it will be an interesting race at Sandown if they get their hurdle races on. Purely due to the likely odds I'm with Melodic Rendezvous to upset the favourite.
Welsh Champion Hurdle
At Ffos Las the Welsh Champion Hurdle has attracted a decent entry. The title of this race is slightly misleading as it's a handicap hurdle, and it's run over 2m 4f.
Oscar Whisky made the race his own for Ffos Las supremo Dai Walters and Walters is trying to win it again as he has Whisper (Nicky Henderson) and Top Gamble (David Pipe) amongst the entries.
Whisper has a 100 per cent record at the track and it's interesting to see him over hurdles this season as Henderson seemed adamant the only way he would stay over the smaller obstacles would be if he didn't take to jumping fences this Autumn. He hasn't been jumping his hurdles too fluently this term, but was better when winning at Newbury last time out. The race should be run to suit here.
Top Gamble is another regular at his owner's track. He has won both his starts here, those runs making up 50 per cent of his appearances in public to date. He is another horse who will prosper when he's sent chasing, but he's lightly raced and there should be more to come.
Last weekend Paul Nicholls said he wanted to protect Harry Derham's 5lb claim and he wasn't letting him ride too much (he only had two winners to go to reduce it to 3lbs at the time). The reason behind those comments was that he would like to take that valuable 5lbs off the back of Saphir Du Rheu, who has top weight in this contest.
The horse is a lively outsider for the World Hurdle (14/1 with Sky Bet) after his easy win in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton last time out under Derham. He's a lovely big horse who will progress when he's sent chasing, but in the meantime if he runs here with that conditional jockeys allowance he will be a leading contender.
Rated 4lbs behind him is last year's winner Medinas, another runner from the resurgent Alan King yard. The horse is rated a stone higher in the weights this time round though which will make life much harder. The reason for the hike up the weights aside from that win, was his subsequent win in the Coral Cup at the festival. He has run well enough in graded company on his two starts this season without setting the world alight, but again that could be attributed to the stable form at the time. So, fingers crossed the weather doesn't put paid to the card, I'm going with the top weight to give Harry Derham and his uncle Paul a nice winner.
West Wales National
The West Wales National will be a real slog and there are some familiar faces lining up for this 3m 4f handicap chase. Dai Walters could have a winner on his big day in the other feature contest as Mountainous is bidding to add to his Welsh National win. If he is to win, it will have to be off a 7lbs higher mark than for that Chepstow success and Richard Lee said after that win that he isn't the easiest horse to train. He does love heavy ground though and he will get that here.
In conditions such as this it is going to be hard for horses near the top of the handicap and down the bottom of the weights Gary Moore has recent Sussex National winner Reblis. The horse seems rejuvenated for his move to Moore and although he has to defy a 9lbs rise, he might be able to do it.
If Rebecca Curtis' Bob Ford can settle better he is also of interest at a track that suits and on ground that doesn't faze him. He is lightly raced and has a flyweight with Patrick Corbett's claim taken into account and he can't be ignored. He is entered in the four-mile NH Chase at the festival. The stable is a but quiet this month, but it was good to see At Fishers Cross run a much better race in the Cleeve last weekend, so maybe the horses are returning to form. He could be worth a punt.
Grade 2 Towton Novices' Chase
If Wetherby is on then their feature is the Grade 2 Towton Novices' Chase over 3m 1f. I hope Shutthefrontdoor runs in this. He has been a bit of a frustrating horse to follow this term as he looked a horse going places before the start of the season. Although he won a novices' chase at Aintree on his reappearance, he has been beaten twice since including a last place when favourite at Cheltenham last time out.
No explanation could be offered by trainer Jonjo O'Neill, although it was thought that maybe he would appreciate more testing ground, he'll certainly get that! That run was too bad to be true and as JOnjo's horses have also been under a bit of a cloud that could have been the reason. His horses are running much better now so I'm keeping the faith.
Tied Cottage Chase
Moving onto Sunday and the Tied Cottage Chase looks potentially decent at Punchestown. The Grade 2 contest is run over two miles and once again Willie Mullins has a strong hand with two of the leading contenders. He has entered both Arvika Ligeonniere and Twinlight.
Bog Warrior (Tony Martin), Toner D'Oudairies (Gordon Elliott) and Rathlin (Mouse Morris) are all owned by Gigginstown House Stud, with Morris also entering Baily Green under different ownership.
Special Tiara is trained by Henry de Bromhead with the only British entry coming from Donald McCain with Desert Cry. Arvika Ligeonniere could only finish third in the Dial-A-Bet Chase last time out, but a return to a right handed track is expected to suit. He stays further than this two-mile trip, but Mullins says he is more inclined to run over shorter rather than further with him as he has loads of pace.
His stablemate, Twinlight, is an exciting young horse who finished third to Captain Chris at Kempton last time out. He made jumping errors that day, but it was over 2½ miles and the drop in trip will suit. Rathlin reappeared over hurdles last time out after an Autumn break, he seems better over further. The same comment applies to stablemate Baily Green.
Bog Warrior hasn't run since his fifth in the World Hurdle, but he has won three times over fences including in Grade 1 company. He hasn't been easy to train, but he's got plenty of ability and it he's straight for this first run since last March he'll be interesting, even over a trip that looks short of his best nowadays.
Toner D'Oudairies has been in more recent action, but was beaten by Arvika Ligeonniere earlier in the season. The McCain horse will enjoy the ground and was a winner of his last two starts. We'll know more when the declarations are made, but Arvika Ligeonniere is the obvious choice and I'll be interested to see which horse Bryan Cooper chooses to ride.
Manyriverstocross in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase @ 12/1 with Sky Bet (each way)
Melodic Rendezvous in the Contenders Hurdle
Saphir Du Rheu in the Welsh Champion Hurdle
Bob Ford in the West Wales National
Shutthefrontdoor in the Towton Novices' Chase
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