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Weekend action can offer clues to Festival and National

AS Cheltenham edges ever closer, after this weekend's racing punters should be able to glean four important indicators of what to expect in the coming months.

1 A Gold Cup candidate in the Hennessy? Seven winners of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury have gone on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with the most recent being the great Denman.

Indeed, Paul Nicholls' staying chaser has had two wins in the Hennessy, in 2007 and 2009, bookending victory in the Cheltenham showpiece in 2008.

With so many strong Gold Cup candidates around at the moment, the 2012 running could well be a vintage renewal, so it's hard to predict the winner will be running in Newbury's feature tomorrow.

However, Great Endeavour is as low as 25/1, depending on where you look, while Michel De Bon, the apparent Paul Nicholls second string tomorrow, is the same price, and Aiteen Thirtythree is as big as 50/1.

Tomorrow's winner will see their price cut for the Gold Cup, but the bookies should be safe enough in this instance.

2 Is Binocular still a Champion Hurdle candidate? Despite missing last weekend, reigning champion Hurricane Fly is still the extremely short-priced favourite to retain his crown next March.

However, second favourite to him is a former champion, Binocular, who missed last year's race owing to unusual circumstances, but still ended up being well beaten last time out.

Binocular faces just four rivals on his seasonal debut at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and if he is to be still considered a real Champion Hurdle contender, this has to be a winning start.

Last weekend's winner Overturn and Paul Nicholls' Celestial Halo provide the opposition, but Binocular has failed to making a winning start to a campaign since 2008 (when 1/9 fav), and he'd have to be putting that right here.

3Can Willie Mullins be stopped? From his last 30 runners over jumps, 16 that Willie Mullins has sent out have won. There have also been another six winners to add to that this month alone.

It is simply an incredible sequence and it is showing no indication of coming to an end.

At Gowran Park tomorrow, Ut De Sivola is sure to be popular when making his debut in the three-year-old hurdle, as will his other runners in the beginners' chase and concluding bumper.

While at Navan on Sunday, he raids the Troytown, and unleashes Cheltenham Festival-winning Sir Des Champs in the beginners' chase to further enhance his current glowing record.

Noel Meade's return to top form has been encouraging, but it must be disheartening for every trainer as Willie just keeps producing the firepower meeting after meeting and without any sign of let up.

4Will the Troytown produce a Grand National winner? The testing conditions at Navan will make it hard to judge, but Sunday's Troytown Handicap Chase looks an above average renewal of the race.

The bookmakers are finding it a difficult race to unravel, with five horses quoted at 10/1 by sponsors Ladbrokes earlier today.


There are some promising types, who, if going to win a Grand National, be it in Ireland or England, are going to have to have a preference for better ground, or so you would think, and the chance of a horse doing a unique double has to be slim.

At 40/1, Willie Mullins' Quiscover Fontaine was the shortest entry from the Troytown with a quote for the Aintree spectacle.