Only three go to post for two of the three feature races at Newbury this afternoon, but we have a maximum field of twenty-four for the Betfair Hurdle one of the most valuable and prestigious handicaps of the jumps season.
The ground was described as soft with further rain forecast on Friday at the Berkshire track. Irish Roe has been the big gamble of the race and is a mare I have plenty of time for, but the ground has surely gone against her. The formbook will tell us she finished runner up on soft ground at Doncaster last time but the winning time suggests it was no worse than good to soft.
Nicky Henderson saddles no fewer than five of the field and the Lambourn handler has an excellent record in this corresponding race winning it on five previous occasions. BetVictor bet 7/4 that Henderson makes it six and his quintet all have realistic chances.
Kayley Woolacott’s Lalor would be the most popular winner and was my original antepost selection, but my two each way selections against the field are Henderson’s mare Kayf Grace (12/1 at BetVictor) and Coeur Blimey (25/1 with BetVictor) with marginal preference for the latter. Note BetVictor are betting each way ¼ odds five places.
Coeur Blimey is fitted with cheekpieces for the first time this afternoon and the selection has hinted in recent starts that he would appreciate a return to a left-hand track. Lucy Gardner takes off a valuable 3lbs from the seven-year-old who gets the each way vote in a contest that is as wide open as 10/1 the field with BetVictor suggests.
Arkle winner and Champion Chase favourite Altior (3.00) goes head-to-head with Tingle Creek winner Politilogue in a fascinating Game Spirit Chase. The Henderson runner is making his belated seasonal reappearance and is currently 5/4 to win the Champion Chase at BetVictor. If he is back to his best, I am sure he is a better horse than Politilogue but the grey is race-fit and will take advantage of any chinks in the favourite’s armour.
The Denman Chase sees the reappearance of last year’s Gold Cup third Native River (4/5 at BetVictor) who won this corresponding race 12 months ago but he must give weight to his two rivals and I hope to see Saphir Du Rheu (2.25) reverse Cheltenham form on 6lbs better terms. The selection is fitted with a tongue-tie for the first time and is another making his belated seasonal bow for Paul Nicholls but he might be slightly overpriced at 4/1 with BetVictor.
Ben Pauling has his string in cracking form and Barters Hill (1.50) makes his eagerly awaited comeback from a 456-day absence. The selection finished fourth in the Albert Bartlett of 2016 but has only raced once since when pulled up after losing his action at Cheltenham on his sole start over fences. In his pomp he was rated 150 over timber and can race off 142 today – he is unbeaten in two previous starts at Newbury and gets the vote at 7/2 with BetVictor.
I hope to see Three Ways (4.10) enhance his Cheltenham Festival credentials in the three mile handicap chase for Jamie Snowden and Gavin Sheehan. The selection is not yet the most fluent of jumpers but is all stamina and he is likely to be doing his best work when others have cried enough. He is 50/1 for the 4m NH Chase with BetVictor and that is likely to be his Festival target.
Brewin’Upsatorm (4.40) could hardly have been more impressive than when scoring at Hereford on his first start for Olly Murphy and he can take the listed Bumper under Richard Johnson.
At Warwick, I hope to see Value At Risk (3.15) land the two-and-a-half mile handicap chase for Dan and Harry Skelton. The selection has not yet fulfilled his potential, but was a winner over timber last time out and is now rated 13lbs lower over fences than he is over hurdles.
I am convinced the mare Just A Thought (3.50) is well handicapped at present but she must improve her jumping if she is to get her head in front after a number of decent efforts. She races as if this return to a marathon 3m 2f trip will suit.
At Exeter on Sunday, there is a competitive Veterans’ Chase over three-and-a-half-miles and Harry Topper was a fast-finishing fourth in the corresponding race 12 months ago from a 4lbs higher mark. He must go close but there is the possibility that Band Of Blood (3.35) is thrown in off his current mark for Dr Richard Newland.
The selection hasn’t run for 661 days, but he finished third to The Last Samuari from a 13lbs higher mark in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster two years ago and he could be very well-handicapped at present. The betting should tell us plenty about his wellbeing following his long absence.
Fountains Windfall is likely to take up his engagement at Warwick on Saturday and, if that is the case, I expect to see Ramses De Teilee (4.10) land the Graduation Chase. The Grade 1 Kauto Star Chase runner up Elegant Escape is likely to start market leader but I am a big fan of the David Pipe-trained grey who was impressive at Chepstow last time.