The Cheltenham Festival races will really start to take shape now we’ve entered the new year and the most exciting week in the calendar draws ever closer.

There will be plenty of Cheltenham clues on offer this weekend on both sides of the Irish Sea, starting at Warwick on Saturday.

Warwick and Kempton on Saturday

The Leamington Novices’ Hurdle (14:25) is a Ballymore Hurdle trial, and this is a competitive race, make no mistake. Often in these sorts of races, it pays to have hurdling experience and to be able to battle.

Harry Senior has that experience having run four times over hurdles. He was a good winner at Chepstow last time when stepped up to 2m3f and this extra furlong will help him again.

He’s a grand horse, who will make a smashing chaser down the line, but he’s seemingly got everything in his favour here and should give Puppy [Robbie Power] a great spin.

Speaking of Puppy, I know he’s looking forward to his book of rides at Warwick and, after looking at the card, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was in the winners’ enclosure a few times throughout the afternoon.

At Kempton, I like the look of Olly Murphy’s Notre Pari in the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle (14:40).

He’s a young, improving horse and I’m sure he’ll cope with the 8lb rise he got for his easy win last time. The other two races he’s run in this year haven’t worked out too badly, and he looks to be on a nice mark. Barry [Geraghty] has won this race twice in the past seven years and this could be his third winner in eight years.

Punchestown on Sunday

There’s a cracking card at Punchestown on Sunday, and I’d be mad keen on Carefully Selected in the Killiney Novice Chase (13:05) for Willie Mullins.

He’s a lovely horse who we’re really going to see the best of now. He was second in the Cheltenham Bumper in 2018 and, although he’s only ran four times since, the only two times he’s been beaten have been in Grade 1 company.

Conditions will be in his favour as we’re due plenty of rain in Ireland this weekend, and I expect him to be a real tough nut to crack.

The Moscow Flyer (14:40) has a good look to it this year, but I’m confident that Gordon Elliot’s Andy Dufresne will take some stopping back down to 2m.

He’s quick and sharp and will suit Punchestown, which is a sharp track, and I can see him travelling all over these. He was beaten by a very good horse last time and this drop back to 2m should really suit.


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