The Duke’s Weekend Preview

‘The Machine’ – that’s what they call Willie Mullins’ hurdler Faugheen. Only he was far from that at Leopardstown in a complete shock for the betting markets after he was pulled-up in the Ryanair Hurdle. That has sent reverberations around the betting for the Champion Hurdle.

Some firms have taken Faugheen out of the market, others have pushed his odds out to a best-priced 13/2. I guess if you like taking blind punts then you might be interested in those odds if you think ‘The Machine’ will return to his best. We’ve certainly seen more surprising things happen when it rolls round to The Festival every March.

Personally, I think this just underlines the strength of reigning champ Buveur D’Air’s claims. At long odds, if she were to skip the defence of her Mares’ Hurdle title, then Apple’s Jade might come in to the mix with the allowance she would receive in the Champion Hurdle.

As we saw with Annie Power, the best mares can take real advantage in the top Grade 1 races from these allowances. Apple’s Jade is rated 158 on the latest ratings and Buveur D’Air at 169. If she were to receive 7lbs in the Champion Hurdle, Apple’s Jade would really come in to contention, especially as she stays much further and could employ tactics that would test the stamina of her rivals. I’d be thinking seriously about that route for her.

As for Saturday’s action, the 2.10pm at Haydock is really competitive. The one for me is West Of The Edge. Dr Newland’s nine-year-old is well known to us and we know that he won’t have any issues with testing ground or indeed the trip. He’s had a couple of spins over hurdles to get his fitness up and now he goes back over fences. If you look at how he has been trained in previous seasons there is a pattern in this regard.

In 2014, West Of The Edge came back from his summer break, had a spin over hurdles and then won his next race over fences. In 2015, he came back from five months off the track with three runs over hurdles, before absolutely dotting up in a chase at Market Rasen. Last year, he was transferred to Dr Newland who clearly felt he had him right where he wanted him, sent him chasing immediately and he won two chases on the bounce. This season, he has had two runs over hurdles to ready him and now he goes chasing again. I fancy a big run from West Of The Edge if those trends continue! Of the others, Emperor’s Choice and Jennys Surprise both enjoy heavy ground, so they are respected, while Whiskey Chaser won at the track last time out and could play a big part.

The Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle is the feature at Newbury. Sometimes you look at a race and it totally stumps you. This is one of them.

Poetic Rhythm’s form looks strong in the context of the race with a Grade 2 win at Chepstow and a good third in another similar race at Cheltenham. Kilbricken Storm didn’t beat much at the same venue two weeks ago, but he is progressive and might improve again. Ben Pauling’s Way Back Then looked a good prospect at Kempton last month, while Dame Rose receives a weight allowance that will be helpful in the testing conditions. For once, I’m not going to nail my colours to one, because it would be guesswork. Best of luck if you are having a play in the race…you’ll need it!

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