With Ffos Las being abandoned last weekend it left us with five races that I previewed. From those races we had three winners with Le Reve (4/1), Saddlers Encore (5/1) and Arthur’s Oak (6/4).
This weekend we focus on Newbury and Warwick for their jumps cards, including a look at the Betfair Hurdle.
This Handicap Hurdle over 3m has a good each-way shape to it with eight-runners going to post.
Sykes is the least exposed of these and the seven-year-old has relatively little weight. The son of Mountain High won twice in autumn, including a dead-heat at Aintree. He was third over course and distance in November off this mark but still have more to offer. He’ll be settled towards the rear where Richard Johnson will be hoping to get a decent gallop.
One of them proven at this trip is Zeroshadesofgrey. He gets the vote here for Neil King. He’ll be suited by the configuration of the Newbury track as all six wins have come going left-handed. He handles bottomless ground and with rain forecast that could be in his favour. He has gone up 5lb for his latest win, which will make this a tough task but he has to be considered from an each-way perspective.
Batavir is back to a very workable mark, as he is only 2lb higher than his last win in December 2014. He ran well to finish third in an extremely strong Fixed Brush Hurdle from which the form is working out very well. He was pulled up at Cheltenham last time but after being freshened up could get involved.
Millanisi Boy won a novice event last time but will have to step up on that here. His only run over a similar trip saw him place but that was off a lower mark than this. Argocat has some solid Irish form in the book and is having his first run for Nicky Henderson here. This is his first run for 255-days, so he’ll probably require it and is best watched.
Advice: Zeroshadesofgrey (9/2 Each-Way)
This Mares’ Hurdle is a Listed race over 2m5f and the drop back in trip should suit Jennies Jewel.
She was second in the Warfield Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot last time behind Vroum Vroum Mag, who looked like she had only just joined in. Jarlath P Fahey’s nine-year-old still went well and outran her odds of 33/1 that day. There isn’t anything quite as good as the winner that day, so if in a similar vein of form can finally win for the first time since winning on the flat at Galway in October.
Jessber’s Dream the probably the right favourite and is the least exposed of this field. She is a winning point-to-pointer meaning she does have stamina however I feel she is a little short for this race. She was second to Myska at Taunton when last seen but that winner disappointed when seen since but has been given excuses. On that occasion her performance didn’t scream she’d welcome a step-up in trip in these conditions. Her pedigree says she’ll benefit from the extra distance but I have reservations.
Willie Mullins has saddles Glens Melody to victory in this race for the last two years; this time around he saddles Petite Parisienne. The grey wears the hood for the first time after disappointing since winning the Grade 1 four-year-old Hurdle at Punchestown. She has to carry extra weight plus she hasn’t shown form anywhere near what she was capable of last season, possibly suggesting she has lost her spark. If the hood can get some sparkle she is interesting.
Advice: Jennies Jewel (2/1 Win)
The Game Spirit Chase is a Grade 2 contest where we see the return of last year’s Champion Chase winner Dodging Bullets.
The Paul Nicholls’ chaser returns after suffering a setback from injury but he has a fairly good record fresh and has won’t have a problem on this track. On form and ratings he is far superior than his rivals. If fully tuned up it is very difficult to see past him making a winning return.
Top Gamble is the main danger on paper and in the market. His two most recent runs have been creditable ones behind two smart types. He has the fitness edge and has a good record over fences only finishing out the frame twice from nine starts over the larger obstacles. The drop back to this 2m trip could help him and if positively ridden could be hard to catch.
L’Ami Serge is entered here but this Novice is also entered at Warwick in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase, which is his first preference. If he does pitch up here he is likely to try and make all, which could see him slip his rivals.
Overall with it likely that L’Ami Serge goes to Warwick the obvious way in is with Dodging Bullets but for a better return try the forecast.
Advice: Dodging Bullets (4/5 Win)
Dodging Bullets/Top Gamble forecast
The Betfair Hurdle has been a bit of a graveyard for favourites in recent years with only three of the last ten winning. Blazer is plenty short enough for this renewal and is worth taking on carrying a 5lb penalty for winning at Leopardstown last weekend. He has shortened throughout the week, especially after the news that Barry Geraghty had chosen to ride Willie Mullins’ charge instead of Modus.
The first of my selections comes at a nice price and is one I’m really keen on for this race and going forward. Agrapart has only had four starts since joining the Nick Williams yard and his form looks very solid to say the least. If you look back to his second start for the yard he finished a close second to Ma Du Fou, who won the Sidney Banks Listed Novices’ Hurdle on Thursday. He followed that up with a comfortable victory over Braavos at Aintree and that horse won on his next start. His last run saw him finish third in the Tolworth Hurdle behind a Willie Mullins Cheltenham hopeful and O O Seven, who then won the Scottish Albert Bartlett Trial last weekend. For me he still looks very well treated by the handicapper and if learning to settle in his races could be a really useful type. He could try and make the running with Lizzie Kelly in the saddle but will be taken on for that. He just looks overpriced.
Harry Whittington has made a great start to his training career and Affaire D’Honneur represents him. This five-year-old has only had three career starts over obstacles, so clearly is unexposed. On his UK debut in December he finished second by a length to Zulu Oscar, who finished in the midfield of the Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last month. He clearly has ability but may have more to offer when facing a fence.
Mad Jack Mytton is interesting. He finished second to the in-form Solstice Star when the yard was well and truly out of form. That winner won again at Cheltenham last month making it five on the bounce, so this Jonjo O’Neill may have bumped in to an in-form horse. He is from the family of Spirit Leader, who won this race in 2003, which again makes him a player. However others are preferred.
Phillip Hobbs saddles a few in this field and he has two that are also worth considering. Sternrubin is a progressive five-year-old that can continue his winning run on the back of dead-heating with Jolly’s Cracked It in the Ladbroke at Ascot last time. He is another that is likely to try and get to the front but the fact Richard Johnson has chosen him makes me take notice. He could have a few of these in trouble if setting a similarly strong pace like he did at Ascot. Despite climbing the weights he has continued to get better and he seems capable off going in again in this big-field handicap.
The other Hobbs runner that looks massively overpriced is Cheltenian. I put him up when he was a fast finishing but never nearer second at Cheltenham last time. His odds look far too big considering he was second last year and fourth in 2014. He does carry top weight, which wouldn’t usually attract me in this sort of race but it is one where there is plenty of pace and he is likely to settle towards the rear, so a tear up at the head of affairs could boost his chances. If successful here he would become the oldest horse to win the race – currently Geos as a nine-year-old in 2004.
The majority of bookies are paying out on five places in this race, so it may be worth checking out who is and who isn’t to get the best available value on a big handicap like this.
Advice: Agrapart (20/1 Each-Way)
Sternrubin (9/1 Each-Way)
Cheltenian (40/1 Each-Way)
This Handicap Chase does only have seven runners but there could be some penny pinching to be achieved.
Jonjo O’Neill didn’t have any runners for some time as he tried to deal with poor form. Since re-opening his runners have slowly come back to some form but he isn’t a trainer you can fully predict. He saddles Taquin Du Seuil, who has been off the track for 338-days. The Ryanair winner at Cheltenham in 2014 has the back class to take a race like this but is likely to require the run after the absence.
Venetia Williams has two runners here and her first choice seems to be Marcilhac. This French bred has only had four starts for the yard since joining in 2013 and could have plenty more to offer. His run at Ascot came on the back of a long absence, so he is likely to be sharper for that and he looks well-treated off a mark of 132. A slight concern would be that his win at Plumpton in January 2014 saw him jump right-handed and that is something that could cost him here if showing the same tendencies.
The stables second choice is the one that I’ve been looking at in this race. Niceonefrankie has some back class after winning the Grade 3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup in 2014 and he has only had two runs since then. He won that race off a mark of 142 and if you take in Charlie Deutsch’s claim he is off 140 today. He had excuses last time when pulling up after being hampered. The 78-day break should have freshened him up. He is yet to encounter heavy ground in his 40 starts but he is a son of Ishiguru, whose progeny have a 16% strike rate in deeper ground.
Cogry could be a bit of a lurker in this race. He has been running in stamina testing races and he is likely to welcome the drop in trip today. He’ll handle conditions and with the first-time visor on has to be considered. He is another that could be well handicapped in this line-up and that is without the claim of Jamie Bargary, so he has to be respected on his best form.
Advice: Niceonefrankie (8/1 Each-Way)