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Cheltenham - Horse Racing: Exciting youngsters to the fore at Kempton

We really are into the home stretch now in Cheltenham Festival countdown terms - with just three Saturday's remaining between now and the big event in the Cotswolds.

This weekend brings with it a quartet of graded races at Kempton Park on Saturday afternoon alongside some good racing from Fairyhouse in Ireland. On Sunday meanwhile, Fontwell stages the National Spirit Hurdle, while Naas boasts graded action.

Will we see any Cheltenham Festival clues over the next 48 hours? Here's our look ahead to the weekend's jumps action.

Harris hoping to Salute Adonis winner

Amongst Saturday's features at Kempton is the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle (13:50) where some of the hopefuls will be aiming to bolster their Triumph Hurdle claims.

Zarkandar (2011) was the sixth horse to win this Kempton contest before landing the big 4YO race in the Cotswolds, though the feat hasn't been replicated since.

His trainer Paul Nicholls joins Nicky Henderson and Alan King in accounting for 15 Adonis Hurdle winners between since 2004 and they can call upon Impulsive One (Henderson), Big Boy Bobby (King), Pleasant Man and Rubaud (both Nicholls).

With doubts over the form of Nicholls' string remaining in place, and Big Boy Bobby with lots to find on form, 7/1 chance Impulsive One looks best-placed to add to the tally of that trio now.

He has however twice been defeated this season by Milton Harris' unbeaten hurdler Knight Salute, who is 2/1 to win the Adonis and looks sure to be suited by the speed-test it offers.

It's been a fine season for Harris so far and Knight Salute is 16/1 to win the Triumph Hurdle on 18th March, though he's not the biggest physically and might find Prestbury Park a bit daunting at this stage.

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Drama anticipated in Pendil

Following that contest is the Pendil Novices' Chase (14:25) at Kempton and 2/1 chance Minella Drama looks the one to beat for Donald McCain and Brian Hughes.

He's progressing over fences and was a convincing scorer in this grade at Haydock last month on soft ground, seemingly benefitting from his first attempt at two-and-a-half-miles over fences.

He carries a penalty here, as does the Paul Nicholls-trained 2/1 chance Pic D'orhy in his attempt to bounce back from a chastising defeat in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown three weeks ago.

The Ditcheat trainer is struggling to get the best from his string right now and there were some major letdown performances last Saturday.

Alex Hales' Millers Bank has unseated twice recently and must get his act together, while Fantastic Lady is improving all the while for Nicky Henderson but faces her toughest task now.

All in all, this looks an excellent opening for Minella Drama, who holds an entry in next month's Turners Novices' Chase over the trip at Cheltenham and could see odds of 40/1 trimmed should he prevail at Kempton. Terms and conditions of bet365's Best Odds Guaranteed can be found here.

More for Moore's in Dovecote

Father and son Gary and Josh Moore will be hoping to bag the Dovecote Novices' Hurdle (15:00) on the Kempton card with improving Shallwehaveonemore, the 11/10 market leader.

He came up well shy in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January, a race won so impressively by Constitution Hill, but was back at the Esher venue three weeks ago to win a novice hurdle by 20-lengths.

He's doubly entered in the Cotswolds next month, trading at 100/1 for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on 15th March and currently 20/1 for the County Hurdle on 18th March. Victory here could convince connections he should be Festival-bound in three weeks' time.

He faces four last-time-out winners, with Chris Gordon's Aucunrisque perhaps leading the dangers, though French import Iceo was very impressive over track and trip at Christmas on debut for Paul Nicholls. He was laboured since in a Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham and is 10/3 to get back to winning ways returned to Kempton.

Allen hoping to shine for Mullins

The sheer strength and depth of Willie Mullins' squad means some can get overlooked. Icare Allen made a mistake at a crucial stage in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival last time, shedding his unbeaten record behind 2/1 Triumph Hurdle favourite Vauban in doing so.

He now bids to get back on track in the Grade 3 Norman Colfer Winning Fair Juvenile Hurdle (14:00) at Fairyhouse on Saturday, where he faces the likes of promising fillies White Pepper for Gavin Cromwell and Six Feet Apart for Joseph O'Brien.

Though still holding an entry in the Triumph himself, a race he's 28/1 to win, Icare Allen is also entered in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, where he's rated a 12/1 chance to score on 15th March.

Star set for National Spirit bid

Sunday's Fontwell feature is the National Spirit Hurdle (14:50), a Grade 2 over just shy of two-and-a-half-miles. It lacks a star, with consistent sorts Brewin'upastorm and Guard Your Dreams setting the standard on form this season.

The former defeated Darver Star at Lingfield last month on heavy ground, and the Irish raider will try and turn that around now on slightly better ground.

Darver Star was third in the Champion Hurdle in 2020 won by Epatante and a win here might persuade trainer Gavin Cromwell to take up the entry in the next month's Stayers' Hurdle, where his charge is rated a 50/1 chance.

Over in Ireland, meanwhile, Punchestown maiden hurdle winner Hiaou could mark himself down a contender for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham if he can take the scalp of Willie Mullins' Ha D'or in the Grade 2 Novice Hurdle (15:00) on their card.

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