Slating jumps racing has become an all-too-easy pastime of late but this weekend boasts a raft of high quality races that will surely allow the sport to strike back.
The Tingle Creek at Sandown (2.55) on Saturday afternoon is a firecracker of a contest following the declarations of both Shiskin and Edwardstone, while there's real quality from Aintree and Fairyhouse across Saturday and Sunday as the always-busy month of December gets up and running.
Follow all the UK and Irish racing action via the bet365 live Sports Streaming Service as we look ahead to an exciting 48 hours for fans of National Hunt racing.
All eyes avert towards Sandown Park on Saturday afternoon for the Grade 1 Tingle Creek (2.55) which has attracted a stellar six-runner line-up.
Ground conditions could yet play a part in the make-up of the final field but, fingers crossed, they all turn up.
Shiskin is to banish the memories of being pulled up at Cheltenham in March, his only taste of defeat so far over fences. Nicky Henderson is confident the ailment that stopped him in the Cotswolds is gone and if he shows up in top form, ala January's Clarence House win at Ascot in a scintillating duel with Energumene, he's surely the one to beat.
Paul Nicholls has won the Tingle Creek a dozen times and Britain's champion trainer is adamant that last year's winner Greaneteen () is a better horse now following his terrific weight-carrying win in last month's Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter.
Add in Arkle winner Edwardstone at 11/2 for Alan King and the horse that beat him at Aintree in the spring, Willie Mullins' Gentleman De Mee (), alongside Funambule Sivola and Dunvegan and this looks a vintage Tingle Creek.
After a week in which both Nicholls and Henderson vociferously shot down Gordon Elliott's notion that UK trainers 'duck and dive' to avoid major clashes early in the season, we can but hope the Tingle Creek field stays intact until flagfall.
An hour or so earlier at the Esher venue, Henderson's Jonbon is to make it two-from-two over fences in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase (1.45). Aidan Coleman's partner excelled at Warwick last month on his fencing bow, attacking the obstacles at proper pace and seeing off Monmiral.
In the opening Brian Giles Memorial 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle (12.00) the Gary Moore-trained Authorised Speed () looks a classy prospect and could be one to follow after his impressive Lingfield hurdles success.
Harry Fry's mare Love Envoi was one of the stars of the season last term as a novice, winning her first five including at the Cheltenham Festival in March. She's got course form on testing ground and is to make a winning handicap debut on her comeback over two-miles at 2.20 with regular pilot Johnny Burke on board.
The Sandown card closes with the London National Handicap Chase (3.30) where Deise Aba is 4/1 to better last year's agonising nose-second for Philip Hobbs, though he faces challenges now from improving pair Revels Hill (6/4) for Harry Fry and Venetia Williams' mare Quick Wave at .
Emmet Mullins pulled off a remarkable feat in sending out Noble Yeats to win the Grand National as a seven-year-old in the spring and, after a win in October at Wexford in Listed company, they are now taking aim at the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase (1.30) back on Merseyside.
Nicky Henderson's course and distance winner Chantry House is 5/1 with James Bowen trying to get one over on his brother but they both must fear Ahoy Senor for Lucinda Russell and Derek Fox.
His two visits to Aintree have yielded Grade 1s as a novice hurdler and a novice chaser and, while he disappointed on his comeback in the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, many will expect him to leave that behind now.
The famous Grand National fences will be jumped in the Becher Handicap Chase (2.05) over three-and-a-quarter-miles at Aintree on Saturday and last year's one-two, Snow Leopardess and Hill Sixteen are back for another go.
Though she has been pulled up in her last two, one of those was that National itself here in the spring, while last month's Warwick return was aborted after a mistake at the first fence.
Jonjo O'Neill's Cloth Cap stated favourite in the 2021 Grand National and perhaps didn't see the marathon trip out. He ran well in a veterans' contest here on his comeback and rates a 25/1 chance to win the Becher, with Oliver Greenall's Gesskille (9/2) and Dan Skelton's Ashtown Lad () heading the market.
Honeysuckle returns for what is her final season in training in Sunday's Hatton's Grace Hurdle (2.30) at Fairyhouse, one of three Grade 1s at the Co Meath track on the afternoon.
Constitution Hill laid down a brilliant marker in the Fighting Fifth last weekend and there's going to be a lot of talk before they hopefully meet at Cheltenham in March, with Nicky Henderson's youngster now 4/7 for that race and Honeysuckle to emulate the greats with a third Champion Hurdle crown.
The mare is unbeaten in her 16-race career and is going for her fourth successive win in this two-and-a-half-miler. As good Constitution Hill certainly looks, Honeysuckle has been around the block and answered every call so far. Hopefully this is her springboard towards an eventual clash with the young pretender.
If that isn't enough, the Drinmore Novice Chase (1.55) sees Joseph O'Brien's impressive Cheltenham winner Banbridge put his unbeaten chasing record on the line against Willie Mullins' trio Authorized Art, Gaillard Du Mesnil and El Barra as well as the Elliott-trained pair Mighty Potter and Three Stripe Life – both exciting and once-raced chase winners.
This two-and-a-half-mile contest is perhaps a real-life representation of what Elliott outlined to be the difference between the Irish and English jumps scenes recently.
There's also the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle (1.25) over two-miles as Mullins' Champ Kiely, Polo Lounge, Hercule Du Seuil and Ashroe Diamond are joined by Elliott's Irish Point, Joseph O'Brien's Prairie Dancer, Gavin Cromwell's Path D'oroux and Barry Connell's unbeaten Marine Nationale in a fascinating and deep eight-runner contest.
And before all that there's a Grade 3 Juvenile Hurdle (12.25) where French import Lossiemouth (owned by Rich Ricci) debuts for Ireland's champion trainer against stablemate and deeply impressive hurdles debut winner Zarak The Brave – already 11/1 for the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in March – and Joseph O'Brien's smart ex-Flat performer Comfort Zone, easy winner of a Navan maiden hurdle on his jumping how and himself in the Triumph market.
It all contributes to what should be an electric Sunday afternoon of action from Fairyhouse and neither ducking nor diving will be permitted.