The last serious weekend of festival trials and Zubayr left his mark in no uncertain manner when running out an impressive winner of the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.

The victory very much has very similar marking to that of Zarkandar, who Paul Nicholls sent out to win the 2011 Adonis before going onto take the Triumph, and the connection goes even further back as he, like Zubayr, was acquired from the HH The Aga Khan/Alain Royer-Dupre combination.

Zarkandar had a minor victory at Clairefontaine to his name before creditable efforts in two conditions events at Deauville and Zubayr plied his trade in two middle distance maidens at Longchamp last summer, where he was placed in both.

What was striking about Zubayr’s performance was the way he made his ground up from well off the pace with three to jump and easily moved into second place to the leader Azzuri before skipping over the last and registering a smooth three-and-three-quarter-length success.

The lightly-raced Authorized gelding can surely only improve for the experience and, with the much-heralded 151-rated Gibralfaro in his wake, (although Alan King’s charge looks flattered by that mark) looks worth a penny or two with the Adonis having produced the three Triumph winners since 2005 with Penzance, Soldatino (2010) and Zarkandar (2011) going onto Cheltenham Festival glory.

Also having an away-day at Kempton was our long-range Gold Cup selection Cue Card who looked a picture of health when galloping before racing. The aerated stables of Spurles Farm have breathed a pronounced lease of life into several of Colin Tizzard’s performers this term and the confidence in a horse who has won the Betfair Chase and the King George this season is there for all to see. The countdown has begun in earnest and let’s hope Cue Card can not only reward followers of this column but also provide the Tizzard team with a chunky £1 million bonus should he succeed on March 18.

Vautour was another having some pre-Cheltenham airing when schooling at Leopardstown after racing on Sunday and Rich Ricci’s charge jumped well after rapping his first obstacle. His high cruising speed will always stand him in good stead and he was at the zenith of his powers when skipping clear from two out in the JLT Novices Chase 12 months ago. The form of that race appears to have a few holes in it now but all taking on Vautour will be well aware that this classy individual cannot be given too much rope.

The water for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper remains a little murky after workmanlike display from Aspen Colorado at Leopardstown on Sunday and connections don’t appear to have made up their minds over his participation at Cheltenham at this stage. This market will really begin to take shape when Willie Mullins unveils his final plans.
Zubayrr - 1pt @ 6/1