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Cheltenham: Big weekend ahead for Team Nicholls

There's another crucial weekend ahead in the jumps season, with less than five weeks now remaining before the Cheltenham Festival.

Britain's champion trainer Paul Nicholls has been enduring something of a lull in recent weeks and he's got some major chances hoping to power him back into form on Saturday.

Nicholls hopes for Newbury splash

The recent form of the Nicholls string is alarming. He began Friday's racing with just one winner from 37 runners in the previous fortnight and even allowing for the fact he traditionally gives his horses their flu jab in January, it's a poor return.

His two raiders at last weekend's Dublin Racing Festival - Frodon and Greaneteen - failed to beat a single rival between them in Ireland. All eyes then will be fixed on Newbury on Saturday, where some of his big guns are in action.

Arguably none bigger than Bravemansgame, 8/11 to win the opening Novices' Limited Handicap Chase (13:15) on the card. He's been foot-perfect in three chasing wins thus far and looks to be Britain's best novice.

He won the Grade 1 Kauto Star at Kempton over Christmas in fine style, with both runner-up Ahoy Senor and third home Kiltealy Briggs scoring last weekend.

He's giving away plenty of weight on Saturday, but Bravemansgame is 7/2 to win next month's Brown Advisory Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and defeat here would be a big blow to his trainer.

The Ditcheat supremo also sees 1/1 Clan Des Obeaux attempting to win his second Denman Chase at 14:25, while 9/4 Hitman is aiming to bag the Game Spirit Chase at 15:00 on what promises to be a very revealing afternoon for the champion trainer.

Newbury feature favours novices

The main dish at Newbury is the Betfair Hurdle (15:35) and it has attracted a field of 14 runners for what is always a very competitive Grade 3 handicap contest.

Two winners of the race - Persian War and Make a Stand - subsequently achieved victory in the following month's Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in the distant past, but it's now much better known for being won by exciting novices.

Nine of the past 12 renewals have been won by a novice, with seven of those debuting in handicaps when winning this prize. Saturday's winner could have the Supreme Novices' Hurdle as a target in four weeks.

Soaring Glory won this race last year before finishing fourth in the Festival curtain raiser and Jonjo O'Neill's charge is 6/1 to win this race for a second time, though he is now rated 14lb higher.

Knappers Hill, 7/1 for Nicholls, and Broomfield Burg at 9/2 for Nicky Henderson are other novices holding claims, but perhaps Jpr One could be a big contender for Colin Tizzard.

He's got fine form in three hurdles wins so far and is 9/2 to defy an opening handicap mark of 131 under Brendan Powell, while he is also entered in next month's Supreme and is 50/1 for that 15th March contest.

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Arkle aces lock horns in Kingmaker

Over at Warwick all eyes will be fixed on the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices' Chase (14:05), where 10/11 Edwardstone and 15/8 chance Third Time Lucki renew acquaintances for Alan King and Dan Skelton respectively.

Edwardstone easily overhauled front-running Third Time Lucki in a Sandown Grade 1 in early December, but the latter was far too keen in front that afternoon and showed his hand far too soon.

Edwardstone was an easy winner of a Kempton Grade 2 since and is now 11/4 to win the Arkle on 15th March at Cheltenham.

Third Time Lucki, meanwhile, looked a much more relaxed performer at Doncaster last month, when coming through under patient tactics by Harry Skelton to easily win the Grade 2 Lightning Novices' Chase.

He appears to be relaxing better and could turn that Sandown form around before the spring is out. He is 7/1 for Arkle glory but might shorten significantly if he wins at Warwick.

With For Pleasure and fast-improving novice Braves Seasca also in the Kingmaker line-up, Third Time Lucki should got a decent pace to aim at this time and he is one to keep a close eye on.

Harris filly could look Rosy after bumper

The market for Cheltenham's Champion Bumper was changed irrevocably last weekend after Facile Vega demolished a smart field over at Leopardstown.

The Willie Mullins-trained runner is now 1/1 to win the Festival race on 16th March, with the likes of American Mike for Gordon Elliott behind at 3/1 in the betting.

There's a Listed bumper concluding the card at Newbury on Saturday and it could be quite revealing.

Nicholls' Timeforatune is three-from-three so far, while Gary Moore's runner Authorised Speed cruised to an easy success over the course and distance at Newbury last month. They should feature prominently in the betting for this closing contest, but look out for Rosy Redrum.

The filly was an eye-catching winner of a Wincanton bumper in last month's debut, sauntering through the race under Mitchell Bastyan and winning without being asked any serious questions.

The time was good on the clock and she could be capable of adding to her tally upped in grade at Newbury in what's a warm race.

Her trainer Milton Harris is having a fantastic season, one that surely deserves to be capped with a Cheltenham Festival winner, and maybe she could be a contender.

The fairer sex have done well in the Champion Bumper in recent times - with Fayonagh (2017) and Relegate (2018) both winning - and a quote of 100/1 about Rosy Redrum is not to be laughed at given the amount of promise she showed first time out.

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