As well as the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Friday there is a fascinating Grade 2 novice chase between three potential chasing stars. Nicky Henderson’s Champ is 5/4 favourite at BetVictor with Reserve Tank and Black Op at 5/2. All three were Grade 1 winning hurdlers but do note Reserve Tank will give 5lbs to Champ and Black Op if he faces the starter on Friday.
There is a very good card at Wetherby this afternoon and Venetia Williams has her string in good order and she can land the 2m 5f Handicap Chase courtesy of Eceparti (1.15). The selection escapes a penalty for winning a conditional jockeys’ contest at Chepstow a week ago and successful rider Hugh Nugent keeps the ride.
The novice hurdle is a fabulous race and Proschema, Ribble Valley and Sir Valentine have all done us a favour in recent weeks. Good luck to those getting involved but it is filed under the “best watched” for me.
The 2m Handicap Chase is another belter and all seven who go to post hold realistic claims. The vote, however, goes to Dustin Des Mottes (2.20) who met trouble in running at Newbury when a close fifth over an additional three furlongs. Trainer Dr Richard Newland obviously feels his 6-year-old has enough pace for the minimum trip and he was keen on his reappearance. The hope is that he is more amenable to restraint this afternoon.
Higgs (2.55) has had his wind tweaked since he last run when he went out like a light at Carlisle. His previous third at Exeter gives him an outstanding chance in this grade and I hope it is a good day for Dr Newland who also saddles Broughtons Admiral in this conditional jockey’s contest. The weight of money for the selection at Exeter on his reappearance suggested he was considered well ahead of the handicapper at present.
At Hereford Olly The Brave (1.00) must carry a 6lbs penalty for scoring over 2m here earlier in the month and today’s extra distance (3f) is not a problem although this will be the softest ground he has encountered to date. I thought he looked well treated from an opening mark of 128 and thought trainer Dan Skelton would go down the handicap route. His handler must think he is up to defying a penalty with Bridget Andrews in the saddle.
Mr Muldoon’s stamina seemed to give way at Aintree over the extended 3m and it is something of a surprise to see him stepped up in trip by another furlong. Cillin Leonard takes over 7lbs and this could be a red-letter day for the Newland yard although I am sweet on the chances of the lightly-raced Big Shark (2.10) for Philip Hobbs. The selection won a Worcester Maiden Hurdle last month despite running green and he is open to significant improvement.
Over at Kempton this evening Ocala (7.10) returns from a near two-month break for Andrew Balding and David Probert. The filly has never won on the all-weather but she ran a very good race over 7f here as a juvenile and she has run well fresh in the past. This 1m 3f trip should suit, the selection is well drawn in stall four and she gets the each way vote.