Not to denigrate in any way any upcoming meetings in their own right, but at this time of year every major National Hunt race that passes by is seen as an effective trial for a Cheltenham Festival event and this weekend is no different.

Altior the Star Attraction at Newbury

Newbury’s £320,000 Saturday card looks absolutely mouth-watering, but there is no bigger pull for racegoers on the day than seeing Altior back in action over two miles, something he’ll be doing in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at 2.25 all being well.

The two-time winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase has been tried over longer distances this season, an experiment that has in fact led to his first career defeat, and after the controversy surrounding his non-participation last time out it’s hoped there are no further problems.

Nicky Henderson’s ten-year-old is currently a best-priced 1/2 shot to get the job done back over what is arguably still his favourite trip, though in the shape of Dynamite Dollars, Kalashnikov, Bun Doran and Sceau Royal he may not be short of top-class company.

Old rivals and 2018 Gold Cup 1-2 Native River and Might Bite could be challenging each other once again in the Grade 2 Denman Chase over three miles at 3.00, a race in which the relative old-timers are well clear on ratings.

Having looked good when winning the Many Clouds Chase at Aintree as Might Bite crashed out, Native River is as short as 1/3 for this contest but even if he should win, he’s unlikely to shake up the Gold Cup market much this time around.

3.35 sees this year’s renewal of the Betfair Hurdle, a Grade 3 handicap over two miles promising to offer major clues as to the well-being of some major County Hurdle contenders.

Currently Mack The Man and Not So Sleepy are vying for favouritism in this event, though there’s been money for outsider Lightly Squeeze earlier in the week and with a maximum field of 24 potentially lining-up, this could be the hardest race of the day to solve.

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Naas and Warwick Offering Their Own Clues

Over at Naas we’re trialling non-standard race times once more so in the rather strange 2.12 race, the Listed Mares’ Chase, we could see what may well be a rather select field headed currently by Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love.

The nine-year-old daughter of Yeats was a creditable 9th in the Gold Cup last year but it’s hoped she’s given an easier assignment if heading back to Prestbury Park this time around having previously won the JLT Novices’ Chase there in 2018.

Warwick hosts a bona fide trial for the Arkle Trophy at 2.05 in the shape of the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase, a Grade 2 event over two miles.

Heading the market currently is Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, an easy winner both here and at Fakenham although despite carrying on his improvement, he was beaten on soft ground last time on his first try in graded company over fences in the Henry VIII and it remains to be seen whether it was underfoot conditions or the class of the opposition that got him beaten that day.

One who won’t mind the softer going in the Midlands is Paul Webber’s Indefatigable who is due to run in the Warwick Mares’ Hurdle at 2.40. A Listed event, this race is worth just £14,000 to the winner but should help us to work out due to the conditions and the two mile, five furlong trip just who may have what it takes to see it out up the hill at Cheltenham in 5 weeks’ time.