Last week’s Trials Meeting at Cheltenham may have left the cupboard pretty bare of genuine northern contenders.

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

Musselburgh’s prestigious two-day early February fixture begins today and, more importantly, Carlisle swings back into action on Monday, the first helping of a busy month for local enthusiasts.

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.

Admittedly, at 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.

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, who Richards regards as a natural for the big race.

Brian Hughes has been very careful to avoid any suggestion that he will end the season as champion jumps jockey as a result of Richard Johnson being out of action for at least a month with a broken arm.

Hughes points out that a similar fall could come his own way and, that in any case, Johnson has proved in the past his ability to bounce back with remarkable speed. Hughes’ caution is understandable but in the meantime he is steadily accumulating the winners.

Successes at Sedgefield and Kelso earlier in the week extended his advantage over the injured Johnson and provided the leading northern jumps jockey can remain in one piece he should finally achieve his ambition to land the national title.

Hughes will be riding at either Musselburgh or Wetherby today and at Musselburgh tomorrow. Feature event at the East Lothian venue tomorrow is the Edinburgh National in which Little Bruce has to be a leading fancy.

The Phil Kirby-trained stayer jumped for fun when winning a similar contest, the Northern National at Catterick last time out, and is well suited to a tight track like Musselburgh.

The Scottish County Hurdle can also be won by the north with John Quinn’s Ashington expected to go close and Sir Chauvelin capable of asserting at the finish. Jim Goldie’s versatile veteran reserves his best for Musselburgh and was an impressive winner over course and distance at the New Year Meeting.

Top trainers like Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson have short priced entries on Sunday but the Carlisle-based jockey Conor O’Farrell can score a popular success on Jabaar for Iain Jardine.

The William Hill Towton Chase is the most valuable prize on the Wetherby card and with the ground no worse than good to soft Greystoke’s Chapel Stile will be the selection. Ryan Day has the mount and this multiple hurdles winner impressed when winning over fences at Carlisle before Christmas.

There will be no shortage of runners at Carlisle on Monday. Racing is set to begin with a novice hurdle at 1.50 but, with such large fields pencilled in at the five-day stage, an additional divided race is possible.

The Richards-trained Holme Abbey, carrying the colours of the Roper family made famous by their association with Grey 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.

Todhunter could land a popular double in the mare’s handicap chase with Talkofgold, a winner at Hexham and a staying on second at Ayr last time despite making a number of jumping errors. She has Lucinda Russell’s Haul Us In to beat.