LAST week’s Trials Meeting at Cheltenham may have left the cupboard pretty bare of genuine northern contenders, writes John Budden.

Top Ville Ben was the North’s major hope at Cheltenham last weekend but, sadly for Phil Kirby and Tommy Dowson, the Cotswold Chase exposed his Gold Cup limitations.

A bad mistake four out did not help his cause but frankly he was outclassed by the likes of Santini and Bristol De Mai, and the Gold Cup dream is over for at least another year.

At, admittedly, this quite early juncture, it is difficult to see the North being well represented at the Cheltenham Festival.

Lady Burrons can still fly the Kirby flag with honour and I would certainly not rule out the Dipper Chase winner Midnight Shadow should Sue Smith opt to give him a realistic entry in one of the staying handicaps but otherwise it looks a case of waiting for Aintree.

Nicky Richards is likely to be targetting an entry for Ribble Valley at the Liverpool Festival.

The David Wesley Yates-owned star youngster has not been seen in action since the late autumn, but that has been deliberate as connections have decided not to run Ribble Valley on the heavy ground after he had clearly failed to appreciate such conditions at Ascot.

It should be remembered though that the form of that race has stood up well and that Ribble Valley is potentially a class act.

With Aintree in mind, the weights for the Grand National will be released in around a fortnight’s time.

And it will be fascinating to learn how the Grand National handicapper has treated Frank Bird’s Scottish National and Rehearsal winner Takingrisks whom Nicky Richards regards as a natural for the big race.

Meanwhile, the Greystoke trainer withdrew My Old Gold from the Skybet Chase at Doncaster at the overnight stage, relying on Chidswell to hold the Greystoke banner.

In the event, Chidswell stayed on stoutly to finish third behind Ok Corral.

Happily there was no evidence of the blood vessel problem which has troubled the gelding in the past but on the downside Chidswell made a number of unaccustomed jumping errors, the last of which was a momentum stopping blunder four out.

But the Festival is still more than six weeks away and in the interval there is plenty of exciting racing ready to be staged on our own doorstep.

There will be no shortage of runners at Carlisle on Monday, the first helping of a busy month for local enthusiasts.

The Nicky Richards-trained Holme Abbey is an interesting entry in the opener, while Asking For Answers catches the eye in the novices handicap chase.

The Martin Todhunter trained gelding ran a promising race at Ayr last time out, chasing home the more experienced Spyhill.