Ascot, Gowran Park, Haydock, Wincanton: Cornelius Lysaght previews horse racing's 'Super Saturday'
It's 'Super Saturday' - though not as winter racing knows it.
A week to the day later than the usual afternoon of Cheltenham Festival dress rehearsals on 'Super Saturday' at Newbury - a fixture that was cancelled because of the equine flu crisis - a string of significant races are due to take place around these islands.
Race: Red Mills Chase, Gowran Park 2:30
Usual form: Well-timed Cheltenham Festival trial that has taken place over two-and-a-half miles at the County Kilkenny course since the 1990s.
Favourite: In the surprise absence of Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Presenting Percy, this looks a good opportunity for Monalee, being ridden for trainer Henry de Bromhead by Rachael Blackmore; he's been running with great credit in defeat.
Dangers: Edwulf, Anibale Fly and Killultagh Vic, all familiar names at this type of level in Ireland, make up the expected field with preference of that trio for Killultagh Vic on the basis of a third place behind Presenting Percy at this track in January.
Race: Denman Chase, Ascot 2:45
Usual form: Transferred from Newbury; three-mile Gold Cup warm-up named in honour of the Paul Nicholls-trained star chaser, who won in 2008 on his way to Cheltenham glory.
Favourite: The King George VI Chase winner Clan Des Obeaux, partly-owned by former Manchester Unitd boss Sir Alex Ferguson, and also guided by Nicholls, looking to further enhance his reputation and Gold Cup credentials; rising star jockey Harry Cobden, 20, is again on board.
Dangers: 2018 Gold Cup winner Native River, who would have been in the line-up at Newbury, misses the race to go straight to the Festival so Terrefort is the one; unlike some of his stablemates, the vaccinations of the Nicky Henderson-trained Gold Cup and Ryanair Chase entry fall within the controversial new 'must have been jabbed in the last six months' rule, but he's likely to struggle to overcome the favourite.
Race: Kingwell Hurdle, Wincanton 3:00
Usual form: Two-mile-long stepping stone towards the Champion Hurdle since 1971 when the first staging was won by that season's Champion Hurdler Bula.
Favourite: Sceau Royal returns to hurdling for the first time in heading on for two years during which time he's won five chases. And although he's not very old himself, the Alan King-trained seven-year-old, who has an entry in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham, faces some fairly stern opposition on his return.
Dangers: Probably Nicholls again, with Grand Sancy, being ridden by jockey Harry Skelton in a rare link-up with the rider's former boss; the doubt may be whether the fast, flat track at Wincanton suits as well as Ascot and Sandown where Grand Sancy, the holder of two Festival entries, has run well of late.
Race: Betfair Hurdle, Ascot 3:20
Usual form: Moved from Newbury; valuable two-mile handicap hurdle which has seen success for top performers including 1997 Champion Hurdler Make A Stand and four-time Cheltenham Festival runner-up My Tent Or Yours.
Favourite: Al Dancer for Team Twiston-Davies - trainer Nigel and his jockey-son Sam - the winner of three races from three starts since October; during that time the weight the six-year-old, who has two entries at the Festival, is required to shoulder in handicaps has risen by more than two stones, but he looks, as they say, 'progressive'.
Dangers: Getaway Trump is all the rage as an alternative to Al Dancer, but Didtheyleaveuoutto - named after a jokey phrase used by the horse's owner JP McManus when one of his horses wins unexpectedly, 'Did they leave you out [of the information] too' - is unbeaten in two visits to Ascot and though disappointing in his most recent race, at Kempton, is likely to go well back at the track again.
Race: Grand National Trial, Haydock 3:35
Usual form: Three-and-a-half mile beacon on the road to Aintree staged on and off since the 1940s and won in 1975 by Red Rum (though he was also beaten in it four times).
Favourite: The David Pipe-trained Ramses De Teillee has been running better and better as the season has gone on and was most recently second behind the highly-rated Elegant Escape in the Welsh Grand National. On that occasion the horse, who is pretty much guaranteed a place in the Aintree line-up, having been allotted 10 stones and five pounds in the handicap, made a serious jumping error at the fourth- ast but rallied valiantly, and the form is very solid.
Dangers: A few in a race that, unusually, is not being run on very soft going; they include recent course winner Wakanda and also Royal Vacation, but hatrick-seeking The Two Amigos could be interesting after punter-friendly successes at Exeter and Plumpton; his stamina will last out the distance well and he looks to be on the up.
Race: Ascot Chase, Ascot 3:55
Usual form: Ascot regular on this day since the 1990s; over a distance just short of two and three-quarter miles, the prestigious trophy has been won by big steeplechasing names including One Man, Monet's Garden, Kauto Star and Cue Card.
Favourite: Waiting Patiently goes for a repeat success after defeating Cue Card 12 months ago; the Brian Hughes-ridden eight-year-old, under the care of trainer Ruth Jefferson since the death of her father Malcolm in 2018, was the hard-luck story behind Clan Des Obeaux in the King George VI Chase when Hughes was dislodged from the saddle after the horse was severely impeded by a faller with a circuit to go; has an entry in Cheltenham's Ryanair Chase though seen as a Gold Cup contender in waiting.
Dangers: On what's a busy and potentially lucrative day, Paul Nicholls is represented by two big players in Cyrname and Politologue; slight preference to beat Waiting Patiently is for the classy, grey-coloured Politologue whose stamina perhaps ran out when he was fourth in the quarter-mile or so longer King George at Kempton.
Coverage from Ascot and Haydock is on BBC 5 Live