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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Six stars to look forward to with the festival in mind

Native River seeks to continue his super season in the Denman Chase
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Top-notch action comes thick and fast this weekend with an array of stars set for their Cheltenham Festival prep races in Britain and Ireland. We pinpoint some of the names to look out for.

He might have lost his unbeaten chasing record at Haydock last month but this exciting grey again showed terrific athleticism at his fences, which has been his hallmark since he started his chase career this season.

Entered for a 2m4½f graduation chase at Kempton on Friday, he also has the option of the Kingmaker Novices' Chase at Warwick on Saturday - which would represent a drop back to 2m for the first time since he ran over hurdles.

Victory at Warwick could possibly open up the Racing Post Arkle as a credible festival target, having been mooted as an ideal JLT candidate to this point.

Weekend entries: Matchbook Traders Conference Graduation Chase (Kempton, Friday), Betway Kingmaker Novices' Chase (Warwick, Saturday)
Festival entries: Racing Post Arkle, JLT Novices' Chase

Politologue: the flashy chaser has impressed with his jumping

Who said romance is dead? Well nobody told Welsh trainer Debra Hamer and her plucky hurdler Tobefair. Victory at Warwick last month made it seven wins on the bounce and he could go for an eighth at at either Newbury on Saturday or Exeter on Sunday.

His winning sequence started from a lowly handicap rating of 81 and he now finds himself on a dizzy mark of 134. Already qualified for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham a win at the weekend would ensure he makes the cut and the fairytale continues.

Weekend entries: Betfair Cash Out Handicap Hurdle (Newbury, Saturday), Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (Exeter, Sunday)
Probable Festival entries: Pertemps Final

Tobefair (left) is a prolific winner and still improving

Bristol De Mai
Coneygree used Saturday's Betfair Denman Chase as a stepping stone to Gold Cup success two years ago and this year's race could easily have a bearing on the big one in March.

Bristol De Mai came from leftfield to announce himself a credible Gold Cup contender with a wide-margin handicap success at Haydock last month, a win that saw his handicap mark soar 12lb to 166.

The question now is can he back that performance up? If he can, the Gold Cup will be next.

Weekend entries: Betfair Denman Chase (Newbury, Saturday)
Festival entries: Ryanair Chase, Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup

Bristol De Mai: a genuine Gold Cup contender after Peter Marsh romp

Native River
If dour stayers are your thing, Native River is the horse for you. The impressive Hennessy winner made light of top-weight and difficult conditions to rout his rivals in the Welsh Grand National last time and he is headed only by stablemate Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup market.

Much like Saturday's Denman Chase rival Bristol De Mai, Native River is one of the most improved chasers in training and has a stamp Gold Cup winners from yesteryear once carried.

If he wins on Saturday, he is sure to close the gap on his stablemate in the Gold Cup market.

Weekend entries: Betfair Denman Chase (Newbury, Saturday)
Festival entries: Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup

Native River: back at the scene of his Hennessy Gold Cup triumph

Has long been the apple of trainer Nick Henderson's eye, with the master of Seven Barrows daring to dream he could one day fill the void left by Sprinter Sacre's retirement.

Awesome in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Altior had looked a natural over fences and bids to make it four on the spin in his new discipline in Saturday's Betfair Exchange Chase, otherwise known as the Game Spirit.

This will provide his sternest test to date, however, as he steps outside novice company for the first time, with the likes of Fox Norton among his potential rivals. Yet anything bar a win would be considered a disappointment for the odds-on favourite for the Racing Post Arkle in March.

Weekend entries: Betfair Exchange Chase (Newbury, Saturday)
Festival entries: Racing Post Arkle, Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase

Altior: has created a fantastic impression over fences

There are four Grade 1s to get stuck into at Leopardstown on Sunday and while it is hard to pinpoint just one horse among a star-studded cast, Bellshill has earned his place in the spotlight.

Already a Grade 1 winner in a bumper and over hurdles he brings an unbeaten record over fences to the Flogas Novice Chase.

His festival targets range from the 2m Arkle to the 4m National Hunt Chase but Saturday's 2m5f trip is perhaps his optimum.

Weekend entries: Flogas Novice Chase (Leopardstown, Sunday)
Festival entries: Racing Post Arkle, JT McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup, RSA Novices' Chase, JLT Novices' Chase

Bellshill: has won both starts over fences in fine style

The question now is can he back that performance up? If he can, the Gold Cup will be next
E.W. Terms
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