Softly Softly approaches as festival looms

With the main Cheltenham trials consigned to the history books, racing takes breath before embarking on the roller-coaster ride that is the Festival build-up.

With the main Cheltenham trials consigned to the history books, racing takes breath before embarking on the roller-coaster ride that is the Festival build-up.

All the leading hopes will be safely stationed in their boxes, no doubt wrapped in a trainer’s equivalent of cotton wool ahead of their dates with destiny.

The jockeys will also have one eye on the big prize and now is the time for them to take a few less risks and play well within the rules for fear of missing the Prestbury Park jamboree.

Although there is plenty of quantity, quality is in short supply until they come under orders for Saturday’s meetings.

Newbury is the definite pick with a two-day fixture kicking off on Friday when some run-of-the-mill action will entertain punters.

Day two sees the action step up a gear with the VC Gold Cup, worth a total of £80,000, taking centre stage over two and a half miles and the innovative VC Veterans’ Handicap Chase giving the older brigade their day in the sun.

Doncaster welcome back the Grimthorpe Chase after the race was switched to Southwell last year while Town Moor underwent its massive facelift.

The three-mile heat boasts a prize fund of £30,000 and provides the highlight on the second of a two-day fixture at the Yorkshire track.

Kelso also have some good racing in prospect with the totepool Premier Kelso Hurdle providing any Cheltenham stragglers with a last-ditch bid to book their ticket.

All eyes will be on Leopardstown come Sunday as they stage their final fixture of the National Hunt season.

Although the Mick Holly Memorial Chase is a fine spectacle in itself, you could easily arrive just in time for the finish of the last race and not miss the main event.

For the traditional pre-Cheltenham gallops at Leopardstown are often some of the most informative pieces of work you will see.

Last year’s meeting was unfortunately claimed by the weather, throwing many trainers into a last-minute, panic-stricken re-think of the final prep plans for their runners.

The session has proved a fantastic testing ground for Cheltenham contenders in the past with the big local trainers not afraid to try their leading hopes.

In 2006, the event virtually sounded the death knell for Moscow Flyer’s Champion Chase chances as he failed to sparkle and subsequently bowed out after a lacklustre Festival show, while the likes of dual Champion Hurdle winner Hardy Eustace have also strutted their stuff in the gathering gloom.

Some big names, as well one or two dark horses, are likely to be in attendance again and it is well worth making a note of those who go well.

FIXTURES (FLAT in capitals):

Monday: Hereford, Plumpton, WOLVERHAMPTON.

Tuesday: Catterick, Leicester, LINGFIELD.

Wednesday: Folkestone, KEMPTON (evening), Southwell, WOLVERHAMPTON.

Thursday: KEMPTON (evening), LINGFIELD, Ludlow, Taunton.

Friday: Doncaster, KEMPTON (evening) Newbury, WOLVERHAMPTON.

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