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From now until mid-March every race will be viewed with one eye on the Cheltenham Festival. Like or not, the jumps’ season revolves around those four days as never before. Some races are called ‘trials’ and are not, while an unconsidered contest might yield a future Festival hero. But any race featuring a Gold Cup favourite is a genuine trial and it will be fascinating to see how Kingscliff fares in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock on Saturday.

Robert Alner’s eight-year old has been the subject of more gossip in the last several weeks than Jude Law’s libido. At various points he has drifted out on the betting exchanges to 20/1 for the main event in March, all on the basis of unfounded rumours that something has gone awry. The Alners, decent straightforward people, are rightly angered that e-scoundrels are spreading malicious untruths, presumably for actual or potential profit.

Most folk will want to judge the horse by what he achieves on the track. But the exchange layers probably feel they are onto a good thing regardless of the substance, or lack thereof, behind the rumours. Kingscliff is a gross horse and notoriously fragile. He has the unfortunate habit of not making it to the Cotswolds on the one day that really matters.

On Saturday, we should learn a lot about Kingscliff’s well-being. He is rated 19lbs better than the field and even though he has to shoulder top weight in the mud he should win. There will be plenty of bookies ready to lay him on these terms and he may represent better value today than if he actually lines up in the Gold Cup.

For those living in or around the Great Wen, Lingfield also has a high quality jumps’ card with a brace of Grade 2 races. In the intercasino.co.uk Novices’ Chase Le Volfoni looks a good thing. In intercasino.co.uk Handicap Hurdle take Nathos at an each-way price to go one better than his second in the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle last time out.

Selections

2:10 Haydock Kingscliff (win)

2:20 Lingfield Le Volfoni (win)

2:50 Lingfield Nathos (each-way)

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