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There is a plethora of top-class racing action this weekend
  1. Horse Racing

Horse Racing: Weekend Preview - A Plus Tard heads for Haydock

The big weekends will keep on rolling for jumps fans from now until Christmas and there's Grade 1 fare from both Britain and Ireland to savour in the coming 48 hours.

Haydock is the scene on Saturday for the reappearance of the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard, while Punchestown's two-day Winter Festival is headlined on Sunday by the Morgiana Hurdle - where trainer Willie Mullins is set to be mob-handed.

All the UK and Irish action can be followed via the bet365 live Sports Streaming Service and we've taken a peek ahead to this weekend's racing highlights.

A Plus Tard returns to Haydock

There was a bit of 'will he-won't he' in midweek but A Plus Tard was confirmed on Thursday for the main event and the Cheltenham Gold Cup hero is 4/7 for more Grade 1 success under Rachael Blackmore.

He won this race on good to soft ground by 22 lengths last season and romped home by 15 lengths in the Cotswolds in March.

Trainer Henry De Bromhead suggests that 'physically he looks an even stronger horse again' as the eight-year-old starts out on a new season. He's a soft ground winner in the past - though some will be wondering how he might handle true 'heavy' going at Haydock given the weather forecast.

Dan Skelton's 11/4 chance Protektorat was third in the Gold Cup though disappointed afterwards at Aintree. He's had a wind operation over the summer, while three-time winner Bristol De Mai is 13/2 to roll back the years for Nigel Twiston-Davies.

The field is completed by Frodon at 33/1 for Paul Nicholls and Joe Tizzard's Eldorado Allen - second to Bravemansgame in last month's bet365 Charlie Hall at Wetherby. On ratings, A Plus Tard has upwards of 16lb and more in hand and he looks tough to beat again.

Hitman carries Nicholls' Graduation hopes

Earlier on the afternoon at Haydock, champion trainer Nicholls will be hoping Hitman (4/7) can land the Graduation Chase (1.50) in the hands of stable jockey Harry Cobden.

Hitman was second in the Grade 1 Marsh Chase at Aintree in the spring behind talented Irish raider Fakir D'oudairies and made a fine start to the new term when narrow second in the Old Roan back on Merseyside last month - with last weekend's Cheltenham scorer Ga Law behind in third.

He faces three rivals over 2m5½ in the form of Erne River, Itchy Feet and Minella Drama and it's the Ditcheat contender that stands out on ratings.

Meanwhile there's more than £70k on offer for the winner in the Stayers' Handicap Hurdle (2.25) that precedes the main dish at Haydock.

This three-miler looks fiercely competitive with Grade 2 C&D winner Wholestone (25/1) in the mix for Nigel Twiston-Davies alongside up-and-comers such as Good Risk At All (5/1) for Sam Thomas and the Charles Byrnes-trained Run For Oscar at 4/1 on his return to hurdles having easily won the Cesarewitch at Newmarket last time.

L'homme Presse returns at Ascot

There are two Grade 2s at Ascot on Saturday including the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase (2.05) over 2m5f where the Venetia Williams-trained L'homme Presse should take some beating at 4/7.

He made rapid progress last season in the novice chasing ranks, winning his first five including a Grade 1 double via the Scilly Isles at Sandown in February and the Brown Advisory at Cheltenham in March. He likely was showing signs of a long season when defeated at Aintree afterwards and is a very exciting prospect now as a second-season chaser.

This is a race Nicholls likes to target and Saint Calvados (6/1) - set to be partnered for the first time by new owner/jockey David Maxwell - could be the one to give L'homme Presse most to think about as Hitman, the other Nicholls contender, has Haydock as his first preference from two engagements on Saturday.

Constitution Hill the star name

A sprinkling of potential stardust comes along in the Coral Hurdle (2.40) when Nicky Henderson's Constitution Hill (1/4) returns for his second season over hurdles.

Unbeaten in three hurdles starts last term, he delivered a stunning 22-length win in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March. He's the most exciting novice hurdler to emerge in Britain for many a year and is already 5/4 to win the Champion Hurdle itself come March.

All eyes will be on Nico de Boinville and the vibes from Seven Barrows this week has done nothing to quell the excitement around Constitution Hill.

Brewin'upastorm and Goshen feature amongst his rivals at Ascot and it will be a seismic shock should Henderson's latest star turn suffer a setback.

Punchestown geared for big weekend

It's the two-day Winter Festival at Punchestown across Saturday and Sunday and - as expected - there is no shortage of high-class talent on show at the Co Kildare track.

Day one commences with the Lily & Wild Beginners Chase (12.30) where former hurdles rivals Kilcruit for Willie Mullins and Journey With Me for Henry De Bromhead are the key attractions.

The latter upset Kilcruit at Leopardstown last Christmas and, as a former point-to-point winner, should have sound hope of doing so again.

Later, look out for exciting course bumper winner Absolute Notions for Elliott and Jack Kennedy in the maiden hurdle (1.38). He won the Goffs Land Rover Bumper here in the spring in convincing style and has changed hands since for €370,000 ensuring he will have plenty eyes on him now going jumping.

The Listed Grabel Mares Hurdle (2.13) will see Heaven Help Us and Queens Brook re-engaging in battle with something to prove after they could only finish second and third respectively over further at Limerick on their comebacks. Queens Brook was favourite that afternoon and Gordon Elliott's mare will be expected to improve significantly for the run.

Mullins' Morgiana stronghold hard to break

Willie Mullins has won the Morgiana Hurdle (2.05) in 11 of the previous 12 years and the Closutton maestro fires three of the five contenders now.

Sharjah, as always the mount of Patrick Mullins, seeks to emulate Limestone Lad and Hurricane Fly in becoming a three-time winner of the Punchestown Grade 1 but he faces a stern challenge from stablemate State Man in the hands of Paul Townend.

State Man won the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and followed that up with a Grade 1 score in the Champion Novice Hurdle at this track. He's as short as 10/1 for Champion Hurdle glory come March and will be hoping to make an early statement now.

Teahupoo will be hoping to break the Mullins stronghold for Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy - the Cullentra handler having sent out Abacadabras to win this race in 2020.

In the preceding Florida Pearl Novice Chase (1.30) the Elliott-trained Minella Crooner is amongst the chasing debutants in the Grade 2 contest, while the likes of Thedevilscoachman (Noel Meade) and Final Orders (Gavin Cromwell) were winners recently and have fitness on their side.

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