Expect Empire to gain ground
Elliott horse could be the one to gain greater Gold credits
In what is a slightly more open Gold Cup picture now compared to what it was at the turn of the year, Native River and Bristol De Mai will meet at Newbury this afternoon in an attempt to nail their place in the Gold Cup frame.
Then tomorrow attention will turn to Leopardstown where Carlingford Lough looks for a third Irish Gold Cup at the Foxrock venue and he'll take on Don Poli, who is the current market leader after an encouraging effort in the Lexus Chase.
Don Poli is still only eight and having been placed in last season's Gold Cup, he could well have a say in the race again but unless we see different tomorrow, even the gruelling 3m2f at Cheltenham may be too short for him unless the ground is bottomless.
It's unusual to suggest that a 10-year-old could be a darker horse for the Gold Cup than a horse two years younger, but Empire Of Dirt is lightly raced and of late has been on a very much upward curve.
Only time will tell, but if an Irish-trained Gold Cup contender is to emerge from Leopardstown tomorrow it's likely to be either Empire Of Dirt or Sizing John but it will also be fascinating to see if a horse like Minella Rocco can return to form for Jonjo O'Neill.
Minella Rocco wasn't done with when falling behind Many Clouds at Aintree before Christmas and, of course, beat Native River at Cheltenham last season so there's certainly plenty of information to be yielded from this weekend on both sides of the Irish Sea.
While Thistlecrack's surprise reversal may have changed the minds of some connections about the Gold Cup and encouraged them to take a chance, Douvan's win at Punchestown last week did nothing to light up a queue to run in the Champion Chase but that is where Fox Norton is headed and he's the current second favourite for the Cheltenham two-miler.
Despite that, he is also second favourite today when taking on the novice Altior and that'll prove as an interesting guide as to just how strong the novice is and, maybe, whether or not he should have a crack at Douvan or not.
Just don't be surprised if Fox Norton has his measure though.
Things haven't been going swimmingly for Willie Mullins this season and some may even accuse that of being an understatement, but nobody can ignore his apparent strength in bumpers this season and he will saddle six of the 10 in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle tomorrow.
Ruby has gone for Grade One winner Saturnas but he was a surprise winner at Christmas and it'll be difficult to call a winner here.
Speaking of bumpers, don't forget to tune into the Naas finale today as Joseph O'Brien's West Coast Time meets the Mullins-trained Carter McKay and tomorrow's Leopardstown bumper could be a red-hot contest too with a lot of big reputations.
Trainer Robbie McNamara sends Cosmo's Moon to Newbury today for their bumper and Quick Grabim is in Exeter tomorrow and both should be followed. It's an intriguing weekend indeed.