Given Doncaster’s postponement again (they really are having no luck), and the fact that Newcastle have to call an inspection our opportunities are a little limited this week.
While Newcastle’s card is intriguing and features the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle, it is in genuine danger due to frost and even if it gets the go-ahead at 8AM on Saturday morning, the heavy ground and freezing temperatures on Tyneside may well mean some rather unpredictable results being registered.
Newbury on the other hand is safe enough and there we have four good bets to get stuck into at the Berkshire track, beginning with a Listed mares’ race over hurdles.
12.05 Newbury (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Listed Race) – FLORESSA
This is not an overly competitive race perhaps, but that means we see both a positive and a negative. True, odds are naturally a little restrictive, but it also means there is very little competition for the selection and so we still go in on this Floressa of Nicky Henderson’s operation.
Beaten last time by Silver Forever who is likely to be challenging for favouritism once again, she was denied only by a short-head and now receives a 3lb weight pull. That weight, plus the fact that the softer going is likely to suit, means the improving four-year-old should probably to have too much for her old rival, as well as Jeremys Flame who is next on the list.
1.15 Newbury (Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase) – JERRYSBACK
There are a few interesting types at bigger prices in this race, namely Bennys King and Joueur Bresilien who should be watched as soon as the market becomes livelier before post time, but the solid percentage call is Philip Hobbs’ Jerrysback and he has my vote.
The seven-year-old was very much heading the right way last season when beginning his chasing career, beating subsequent Cheltenham winner Mulcahys Hill before running the now 160-rated Vinndication very close at Ascot in conditions similar to what he will encounter here; two runs that mark him out as a very good prospect indeed.
Things weren’t too his liking next time up at Haydock Park, though he ran well once again in second place, before the extreme distance of almost four miles was clearly not his forte at Cheltenham during the festival and so a line can be drawn firmly through that performance.
Put back to a race in which he should have no excuses now, his mark of 145 looks pretty generous all things considered and so Jerrysback is very much the one to beat with odds hopefully hitting 5/1 or more.
1.50 Newbury (Class 2 Handicap Hurdle) – DOWNTOWN GETAWAY
Nicky Henderson is to the fore once again here with this race looking like a great opportunity for his Downtown Getaway to win on his seasonal debut, as well as for the first time since defeating Champagne Well at Ascot in January which looks like good form.
Other than his failure in the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree back in April, his form is rock solid so far and naturally he can only get better from this point so with conditions underfoot apparently fine for him, he would be a rightful favourite should he end up heading the market when the tapes go up on Saturday afternoon.
Of course, this horse is not without competition and so among others The Cashel Man should be respected, while at much bigger prices look out for a solid run from Nordic Combined for the David Pipe yard who should not have the rather lowly place in the market he has going into the weekend.
2.25 Newbury (Intermediate Handicap Hurdle – Listed Race) – EPATANTE
Another race and another strong hand this weekend for Nicky Henderson, though while his Elusive Belle is solid both in the market and on form and we could conceivably have had a fair each-way bet at nice odds on French Crusader, we can take a chance instead on Epatante who by all accounts is very well thought of.
JP McManus’ French purchase looks perfect for this race given the levels of improvement he showed early in his hurdling career, firstly when winning at Kempton last November and again when belatedly following-up easily at Exeter in February.
Although he didn’t run well in the end, Epatante did go off favourite also for the Dawn Run at the Cheltenham Festival in March and there’s little doubt that these top connections feel they have a proper horse on their hands, meaning this handicap mark of 137 looks lenient to say the least.
Away from the Henderson trio, Nick Alexander’s easy Ayr winner Elvis Mail may be no pushover in this company, but it’s Aidan Coleman’s mount who gets the nod to give Henderson (and us) a great day.