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AFTER the Willie Mullins show at Leopardstown last week — a slight farce that British trainers ignored the massive prize money over there — it is back to the domestic stuff on the mainland this week, with the Betfair Hurdle (Newbury 3.15) being the main betting race of the afternoon.
This looks like being an above average renewal, and I found it particularly hard trying to trim the massive 25-runner field down to around four real pretenders.
Of the really big priced runners, I thought that there was still massive mileage in the 50/1 shot Donnacha, and I shall be having an each-way saver on the Nigel Hawke-trained runner, especially with the enhanced each-way terms available. So shop around for the best offers in the marketplace today.
I think the trainer has only just touched the tip of the iceberg with this six-year-old, who looked more like the finished article last time out when staying on strongly to win a class four event at Warwick last time out.
Of course, this is a massively different kettle of fish in a better race, but I love the fact that he likes to be at the sharp end of his races as in recent times this big field handicap is normally run at no more than a moderate pace.
But of the shorter priced horses, and bearing in mind the recent heavy rain, I really strongly fancy IBERICO LORD.
A hugely impressive winner of the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham off a mark of 126 he was then unable to defy a 8lbs rise at Ascot, but there were mitigating circumstances that afternoon.
Firstly, the ground may have been a shade on the quick side and secondly Nicky Henderson’s charge simply didn’t settle, pulling Nico’s arms out for the majority of the journey before that effort took its toll approaching the home turn.
To be fair, the selection did well to finish only seven-and-three-quarter lengths off the winner that day, stable mate Luccia.
A 5lbs turnaround in the weights and this deeper ground should see the “Lord” reverse that form. Of the other runners, I can see Aurigny Mill being in the firing line at the business end, alongside the likes of Tellherthename and Go Dante.
There are some interesting Cheltenham clues on the rest of the card, although once again the fields are disappointing, which may well be down to the prize money as well — which certainly isn’t up to scratch for a meeting of this magnitude.
BOOTHILL has his conditions in a frankly average renewal of the Betfair Game Spirit Chase at 2.40. Harry Fry’s charge came unstuck in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton Park last time out, falling at the 5th last, but on that ground they were always going a tad too quick for him and these are definitely more his conditions.
The Grade Two Denman Betfair Chase (2.05) sees the reappearance of Shishkin, who for my money would have won the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day at Kempton Park had he not stumbled after jumping the obstacle at the penultimate fence.
The problem is, despite his high level of talent, you never know what you are going to get with this 10-year-old who clearly has his own thoughts about the game.
Protektorat put his Betfair Chase demise behind him when running well in both a handicap at Cheltenham off 165 and then when second to L’Homme Presse in the Fleur de Lys Chase at Lingfield Park.
I make him more of a danger to the selection than the Henderson charge. The nod goes to HITMAN despite the yawning gap in the ratings behind the two in the betting.
The Paul Nicholls entry hasn’t exactly fulfilled his early promise over fences, but he still has time on his side and I reckon this flat, galloping track has been what he is crying out for.
Following wind surgery he looked as though he badly needed the run at Cheltenham in a fiercely competitive handicap behind GA Law, but that simply isn’t his track and I fancy him to cause a minor shock here.
Elsewhere on the card, the opening novices hurdle (12.55) could see massive outsider DAVID’S WELL outrun his huge price. Chris Gordon has his team in unbelievable form at the moment, and this son of Getaway is surely better than his two runs suggest.
He ran a promising race over the course and distance back in November when pulling way too hard in the opening exchanges, while his follow-up run here is worth forgiving after he was never travelling from the get go.
Later on, WISEGUY is taken to go close in the three-mile handicap hurdle at 1.30, Young Butler is also a big player, while fans of the TV hit series, Succession, will be having a second look at ROMAN ROY in the bumper which ends the card at 4.25.
He looked in need of the stiffer test of stamina on his rules debut when rallying well behind Horaces Pearl, and he could very well step up here.
There is a cracking Veteran’s Handicap Chase over two-and-a-half miles at Warwick and having benefited from his first run for two months at Cheltenham last time out, CHAMPAGNE MYSTERY may land the 2.55.
This deeper ground very much plays in his favour, as all of his best form in Ireland came when the mud was flying around.
However, the best bet on the card could come in the two-mile handicap hurdle at 4.05 in the form of EVENWOOD SONOFAGUN.
Fergal O’Brien’s charge has been kept to good ground for most of his career, and indeed on all five starts since joining his current trainer. But I reckon a bit more give wouldn’t go amiss, as I think he wants a more severe test at the minimum trip.
Finally, at Wolverhampton, have a second look at SIRIUS WHITE in the opening amateur riders’ handicap at 5.30. He was merely outpaced in the closing stages off a slack pace at Chelmsford. This extra yardage and what looks a guaranteed pace should see the gray gelding involved here.
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