TRIAL races over jumps often fail to live up to their primary title but today’s Red Mills Trial (2.20) at Gowran Park is exactly what it says on the tin.

Champion Hurdle entries Quilixios and Teahupoo have so far raced among their own age group, and this year more or less raced against each other, but today is the litmus test for both, with the 162-rated Saldier and 155-rated Darasso in the line-up.

Quilixios is shorter in the betting than Teahupoo for the Champion Hurdle, probably because of his Triumph Hurdle win last season but so far this season, he trails the Gordon Elliott runner 2-0, and bookmakers think he’ll come off second best again today because Teahupoo traded as the 6/4 favourite yesterday evening.

Speaking about Teahupoo earlier this week, Elliott said: “Teahupoo is in good form and the Red Mills Hurdle is the natural progression into senior company for him.

“He did it well at Limerick over Christmas on very testing ground and we couldn’t have been happier with that. I’d hope he’d be better again on better ground and this is a lovely race to target at this stage of the season. This race should give us a good guide as to what direction we take for major spring festivals.”

To make things tougher, Teahupoo will have to concede 4lbs to Saldier, a course-and-distance winner and a Grade 1/Galway Hurdle winner over this trip. The Susannah Ricci-owned hurdler has disappointed over longer distances on his previous two starts but is taking a drop in grade here. However Patrick Mullins has issued caution towards him regarding the likely soft surface he’ll encounter.

Mullins said: “On ratings, he should be involved but I just wonder if he would like nicer ground and if the soft ground at Gowran will play to his strengths, so we’d be more hopeful than confident going into the race with him because of that. But if he were to handle it, he should be competitive.”

The Grade 2 Red Mills Chase (3.30) isn’t so much a trial but more of a fantastic opportunity for the talented Melon to gain a deserved win.

Willie Mullins’s chaser has only won four of his 29 starts and will bid for a first win in 785 days today yet to label him as anything contrary to genuine would be unfair considering he’s ran at Grade 1 level over fences ever since he won his beginners’ chase.

On his chances of an elusive win, Patrick added: “This looks an ideal opportunity for Melon, to be stepping out of Grade 1 class and getting allowances. It’s probably his ideal trip and a local track so everything is in his favour and we’d be expecting him to finally get his head in front.

“It’s been a while but he’s been dining at the top table and running well for the most part, going agonisingly close on a few occasions, so this looks a nice opportunity for him.”

Melon faces four rivals including Chatham Street Lad for Mick Winters. The 10-year-old hasn’t been seen since finishing third to A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase but may use this race as a stepping stone to big targets this spring. He’s in the Ryanair Chase and Grand National, with Winters also considering the Topham Chase as well.

Fiddler heads list of National hopes unleashed

AT the start of the season it’s likely many trainers put a big red marker circle around this weekend, the first weekend after the Grand National weights are published.

With the weights cast iron, it makes a lot of sense to run your National aspirant now, knowing that if they run above their rating, it won’t change come April 9th. And given this weekend provides you with an opportunity to avoid a weight increase in the National while also giving you the longest preparation time for the race, you can see the attraction.

BHA handicapper Martin Greenwood estimates that you need to be in top 70 to have a fighting chance of getting a run in the National. Of that top 70, 13 horses are out in various races this weekend, with Fiddlerontheroof the most notable.

His connections’ comments this week were telling. Speaking at the Grand National weights launch, Joe Tizzard said: “This (the Grand National) has been the plan since the Ladbrokes Trophy where he had a hard enough race. It was going to be too soon to go for a King George, then we talked about it and we thought he could have a live chance in a Grand National.

“We waited until the weights came out before we decided to run him again. We will run him at Ascot on Saturday in the three-mile handicap chase. I’m sure off 155 he would be competitive and he’s a lovely jumper.”

Even before the Ladbrokes Trophy, the Tizzards floated the idea of running Fiddlerontheroof in the Betfair Chase. Their belief in the horse is telling so it’s intriguing they are willing to play his potential off a mark of 155 rather than take on a Grade 1. He’s favourite to win the Swinley Chase (2.25) at Ascot today and if he does, he could be close to National favourite by this evening.