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

Weekend Racing Preview: Jack Frost starts favourite

A massive weekend of National Hunt racing is planned in Britain and Ireland, including Cheltenham and Punchestown, but it all hinges on sub-zero temperatures and the threat of ground frost.

There are inspections planned at the major meetings on both sides of the Irish Sea with low temperatures anticipated, ensuring it's very much a wait and see approach. 

Encouragingly, Cheltenham's Friday action passed a morning inspection, so things might not be as bad as expected. 

In hopes that racing beats Jack Frost, here's our look ahead to the planned action, with all the UK and Irish racing available to watch via bet365's Sports Live Streaming Service.

Epatante bids for International glory

Nicky Henderson will seek to underscore his stranglehold on the two-mile hurdles division by seeing 11/8 Epatante win the Grade 2 International Hurdle (2.25) at Cheltenham on Saturday. 

The Seven Barrows supremo has rising star Constitution Hill at home and this mare, herself a six-time Grade 1 winner, ran an excellent second behind that ultra-impressive winner in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle recently. 

Winner of a Champion Hurdle here in 2020 and twice placed in it since, Aidan Coleman's partner holds strong claims in this grade. She does, though, face some young horses seeking to leave their mark in this grade. 

I Like To Move It is 15/8 for Nigel Twiston-Davies to supplement last month's Greatwood Hurdle win, while First Street is a decent second string to Henderson's bow at 6/1 having won a strong Newbury handicap a fortnight ago. 

Paul Nicholls will be hoping Knappers Hill is a major contender following his comfortable Elite Hurdle win at Wincanton and he's 9/2 to give weight and a beating to this field under Harry Cobden.

Nicholls and Cobden meanwhile will be confident that wide-margin Exeter novice scorer Outlaw Peter can justify odds of 6/4 in the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (3.00) that follows, with the step up to three-miles fully expected to suit him.

Before all that, the December Gold Cup (1.50) is the latest of Cheltenham's major mid-season handicap chases over the extended two-and-a-half-miles. 

Team Nicholls have another likely sort in Il Ridoto at 9/2, fourth in a similar event at the November Meeting, a contest in which 6/1 Stolen Silver unseated Sam Twiston-Davies when still in contention late on. 

The latter must contend with top-weight in a field of 15 now for trainer Sam Thomas.

Joe Tizzard's War Lord (7/1) was third in last month's Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter and will seek to build on that upped in trip now. 

He ran fourth in the Arkle here in March on his only previous Cheltenham start. Henderson and Nico de Boinville meanwhile rely on 8/1 Fantastic Lady, impressive against her own sex over three-miles at Market Rasen in Listed company on comeback last month and not badly treated off a mark of 140 here. 

Last weekend was a mighty one for trainer Venetia Williams and rider Charlie Deutsch, they have 7/1 Frero Banbou in the December Gold Cup mix and he should appreciate this test after a pair of solid Ascot runs at 2m1f this term – with his early French form hinting this trip will suit well. 

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Harris looks to Script the opener

Milton Harris is back on the path to good health and he'll be hoping Scriptwriter provides a boost in the opening JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle (12.05). 

Knight Salute was one of the smartest juveniles around for the Harris team last season and Scriptwriter's Grade 2 win here last month suggested he could be going the same way. 

The son of Churchill is 2-2 over hurdles and squares up to Golden Horn colt Nusret for Joseph O'Brien now. 

Smart on the Flat, he was an easy Punchestown winner on hurdles debut last month and gets 3lb from Scriptwriter here. 

The Novices' Chase (12.40) has a field of only three runners and Monmiral will be expected to build on last month's Warwick debut second behind impressive Jonbon by grabbing this prize for the Nicholls and Cobden alliance. 

The final race is the Mares' Handicap Hurdle (3.35) over three-miles where Harry Fry's unbeaten Lady Adare is 5/1 to return from her break with a winning handicap debut.

McConnell on a Mission at Doncaster

There's some quality jumps racing on offer from Doncaster on Saturday afternoon too, including the Grade 2 bet365 December Novices' Chase (12.55) where Irish raider Mahler Mission (SP) is amongst the leading contenders for John McConnell.  

He was no match for Gordon Elliott's Chemical Energy at Cheltenham in October, finishing a distant second, but should have more to offer. 

Stuart Edmunds saddles useful Gentleman At Arms in opposition, while Dan Skelton and Bridget Andrews team up with Jet Plane and Venetia Williams relies on the mare Bellatrixsa – making her chasing bow here and last spotted in the Chester Plate in May. 

The Listed bet365 Summit Juvenile Hurdle (1.30) is an alternate option for Scriptwriter and Nusret should Cheltenham succumb to the weather, with Dan Skelton's 9/1 Medyaf – who shed his unbeaten hurdles record behind the former in the Cotswolds last month – hoping to be amongst the main beneficiaries if they don't turn up. 

Ireland's Super Sunday Punchestown card, which features the Grade 1 John Durkan, is subject to an inspection at midday on Saturday with the course unraceable on Friday following overnight snow and a severe frost, while it's a similar tale at Cork, where the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase is the highlight. 

At the latter track, all eyes will be on reigning Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Energumene as he makes his comeback in the Hilly Way (2.20) for Willie Mullins. 

He's now 5/4 to retain his Cheltenham crown come March following the impressive Tingle Creek win from Edwardstone last weekend, with Alan King's Arkle winner 5/2 to graduate to Champion Chase glory on 15th March. 

If Punchestown beats the weather, the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase (2.00) is the star attraction and, once more, a returning Mullins inmate will be the centre of attention. 

Galopin Des Champs is already the 9/4 favourite to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup this season and the 172-rated star is slated for his return in the Sunday feature at the Co Kildare circuit. 

The only blip for him as a novice last term came at Cheltenham in March when he tumbled down having jumped the final fence with a commanding advantage in the Turners Novices' Chase. 

He roared back at Fairyhouse in April with a wide-margin win and many see Blue Riband glory as his ultimate destiny. 

He faces stablemates Stattler and Haut En Couleurs as well as Joseph O'Brien's multiple Grade 1 winner Fakir D'oudairies and Fury Road (Gordon Elliott), French Dynamite (Mouse Morris) and Vanillier (Gavin Cromwell) in the Punchestown showpiece. 

Immediately after the John Durkan, the eagerly anticipated chasing debut of Appreciate It will be on the agenda at Punchestown (2.35) on what will be only his second run since winning the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in Cheltenham in March 2021. 

Noel Meade's Highland Charge looks a worthy adversary to him in the beginners' chase over 2m1f.

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