The inaugural Dublin Racing Festival will take place at Leopardstown this weekend while the racing in England and Scotland isn't too shabby either says Tony Calvin, as he prepares himself for plenty of Cheltenham Festival clues...
"The Mullins-Ricci combo already have the Supreme favourite Getabird, but they could have a headache on their hands if Sharjah is as good as he looked before coming to grief at the last here last month."
It's an absolutely crazy-busy weekend of racing, both in England and Ireland - not to mention Musselburgh's big two-day fixture - but we have to start with the Dublin Racing Festival, I guess.
The Leopardstown action promises to throw up Cheltenham clues aplenty on Saturday and Sunday, and I just hope that the fields stand up and we are not subjected to a series of match races.
All eyes on Yorkhill
Hopefully, the Grade 2 Dublin Chase over 2m1f isn't a straight fight between stablemates Yorkhill and Min, as I really want to see Special Tiara back and firing again after his fall in the Desert Orchid Chase over Christmas.
That was his first tumble at the age of 10 and I hope it hasn't unduly affected his confidence as I would like to think the current Champion Chaser has more to give in March. It may well be on the expected better surface at Cheltenham, but I would like to see plenty from him on the fresh ground at Leopardstown this weekend if he lines up.
But all eyes will be on last year's JLT winner Yorkhill as he bids to bounce back from his dismal effort over three miles here last month, though it transpires he chipped a bone in his leg there, so perhaps we can legitimately put a line through that run.
I know the JLT form has worked out brilliantly but it is still a big stretch to see him as a deserved second favourite to Altior (who pleased connections when doing a routine, if strong, piece of work on Saturday) in the Champion Chase market.
Mind you, Min is the fourth favourite and the way he struggled to see off Simply Ned by a head over course and distance last month (losing the race in the stewards' room) wouldn't have you reaching for the back button about him, either.
Arkle looks a two horse race
The Irish Arkle looks very much like being a head-to-head between old rivals Footpad and Petit Mouchoir - just the seven in the race now - with the former heavily preferred in the betting despite having lost 3-0 to his main rival over hurdles.
The reason is obvious in that Footpad has looked electric in winning his two chase starts, while Petit Mouchoir hasn't raced since scoring on his chasing debut at Punchestown in October, due to a joint problem.
With that in mind, I am sure Henry de Bromhead will not be too downhearted with a big run in defeat and, for all that some of the other entries in here are no mugs, this looks a two-way go.
All eyes and ears will be firmly diverted to the Willie Mullins camp this week as we wait to see if Faugheen's eagerly anticipated return in the Irish Champion Hurdle comes to fruition.
It could be that we have to wait until 10am on Thursday to find out, so it kind of kills the ante-posting betting on the race stone-dead, with stablemate Melon and Defi Du Seuil the most likely beneficiaries of his absence.
However, it will be interesting to see if connections of Supasundae consider letting him take his chance. His twp mile form isn't that far off his staying efforts and this race could be a lot more winnable than the current betting suggests come Saturday afternoon.
Samcro is still one of the nine left in the Irish Champion Hurdle but he is obviously expected to take his place in the Grade 1 2m6f novices' hurdle at the front of the Saturday card for which he will be a very warm order, and no doubt he will scare away a lot of the meaningful opposition.
The 13/8 favourite for the Ballymore at Cheltenham appears to have won over the whole of Ireland despite winning just two hurdle starts, the most recent being a Grade 3 back in November, and he could be the real deal.
But I just got the impression, listening to a glowing Ruby Walsh on ITV last weekend, that there could be an element of opposition camps deliberately building up expectation about this horse to take the pressure off them and their charges.
Then again, he could hack up on Saturday and be the NRNB favourite for every novice hurdle at Cheltenham, including the Supreme. Such are the times we live in.
Mullins & Ricci may have to make changes
Everyone is lathering themselves into a right old sweat about Ladbrokes Trophy winner Total Recall in the 3m handicap hurdle on Sunday, as he can race off 31lb lower than his chase mark, but knock yourself out if you are tempted in by the 11-8 dangled by Betfair Sportsbook. He is also entered in two chases on Sunday, by the way.
Of greater betting interest, though maybe longer-term admittedly, are the four Grade 1s on the card.
Espoir D'Allen v Stormy Ireland and co in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle could well be the most meaningful Triumph Hurdle trial we have seen this season, while connections of Sharjah (6/4 with the Betfair Sportsbook), will be hoping that Samcro doesn't rock up in the Deloitte instead of that 2m6f option the previous day.
The Mullins-Ricci combo already have the Supreme favourite Getabird, but they could have a headache on their hands if Sharjah is as good as he looked before coming to grief at the last here last month.
Mind you, Getabird and Sharjah won't run against each other at Cheltenham, we know that much.
Djakadam could be the Gold Cup's forgotten horse
Sunday also sees the 2m5f Grade 1 novices' chase - Sutton Place heads the market here - but the Irish Gold Cup sees a few credible Cheltenham candidates in the line-up.
There is no Road To Respect or Coney Island, so now Our Duke, not seen since his Down Royal disappointment in November, is probably the most anticipated participant, with Anibale Fly and Killultagh Vic two others who could lay down a fair Cheltenham marker, too.
Many have given up on Djakadam it seems, but I haven't yet, especially in a season such as this. I am looking forward to seeing him strut his stuff like his old self once again, and he could yet be the forgotten horse of the Gold Cup.
Let's just hope the majority now stand their ground, a common wish for all Leopardstown races on Saturday and Sunday.
Cheltenham clues on offer at Sandown
But the domestic action is hardly second-rate stuff, with Champion Hurdler Buveur D'Air set to reappear in the Contenders Hurdle.
He won it at odds of 1/4 last year and he could be even shorter again this time around to judge from the seven five-day entries - his trainer likes this easy stepping stone to Cheltenham and won it with Binocular at odds of 1/10 and 1/7, though Peace And Co was chinned in it at 4/7 in 2016 - so we can quickly gloss over that.
I am thinking maybe four runners in there, with one of those being Cap'N, going for the £1,599 for fourth place (or £804 for fifth if there is one more in the race).
There are sure to be some big JLT and RSA clues in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase as 10 of the 11 five entries are rated between 144 and 158. It is potentially a high-class renewal.
Fountains Windfall is the one rated 158 after his Kempton stroll off a mark of 146, but if he runs he may not find it as easy as the official ratings suggest, with the likes of Benatar, Terrefort, and Kalondra, to name just three, potential opponents.
There are some cracking handicaps on the card too, but the embarrassment of weekend riches continues at Wetherby, and at Musselburgh on Saturday and Sunday.
The Grade 2 3m novices' Towton chase, , was won by the subsequent RSA winner Blaklion in 2016 and there is no shortage of class among the 17 five-day entries. Again, let's hope the field doesn't cut up unduly for this 35k prize.
Perhaps the most interesting races at Musselburgh this weekend are the juvenile and novice hurdles on Sunday, but running plans appear to be up in the air for plenty at the moment. Mind you, the current good ground could see a few connections travelling to Scotland this weekend, you would have thought. Apparently, a decent surface does still exist.
However, one thing is for sure. Racing fans will need a minimum of three TVs this weekend - four if you are a rugby fan, and you should be. Not to mention discipline when it comes to managing the old betting bank!
Steady away, as they say.