This weekend sees Newcastle host the Fighting Fifth, the number one Champion Hurdle trial in which Epatante will be a hot favourite.
While first time out and in drier conditions than when she won at Cheltenham she looks somewhat vulnerable to Silver Streak, there is not enough in it for us to have a bet.
We do however have information from elsewhere on the Newcastle card, as well as Newbury and over in the States.
Friday 26th November 2020
2.25 Newbury (Handicap Chase) – SULLY D’OC AA
This is a competitive 2½-mile Class 2 chase, one in which the names you’d expect to be close together on private ratings are.
Clondaw Castle, Oldgrangewood, Fidux and San Benedeto are hard to split, but I really loved the way up and coming chaser Sully D’Oc AA won his race last time at Ascot and I thought right then that there is plenty more to come.
Anthony Honeyball’s former French runner should show up better here than he did last time for a number of reasons. The better ground, different fences on a fairer and more conventional track, plus having the benefit of that last run after a break and a wind operation.
Richie McLernon’s mount is worth a fair bit more than his current mark of 135 so at some very juicy overnight prices, he definitely gets the nod.
3.00 Newbury (Long Distance Hurdle – Grade 2) – McFABULOUS
On an emotional level it’s fair to assume we’d all love to see Paisley Park win again, for both Emma Levelle and his owner Andrew Gemmell, but under his 3lb Grade One penalty and given how laboured he was at this stage last season he may not be a genuine favourite.
In terms of what McFabulous achieved in bumpers it always looked likely that he would head to the top. True, it took him some time to get going over hurdles, but if it turns out that it was a trip he needed then he may reach his peak at staying distance, which he hasn’t got to yet.
In fact, the way in which he won his Grade 2 novices’ hurdle last time out suggested he had put in a career best and yet it appeared nothing but a warm-up for what was to come, leading me to believe that he could be value to take this for Paul Nicholls.
Given the rates of improvement and another penalty for the latter named, both Thyme Hill and Summerville Boy may go well but just fall short.
10.27 Churchill Downs (Clark Handicap – Grade 1) – CODE OF HONOR
This is a high-quality race over nine furlongs around Churchill Downs, one in which bookmakers on either side of the water can barely split Shug McGaughey’s Code Of Honor and Bret Calhoun’s By My Standards.
On private ratings, I initially got them dead together too but in these conditions the son of Noble Mission could be the one to be on.
We must also consider that, when using the numbers which is a reliable thing to do in the States, Code Of Honor has been rated higher than By My Standards at the same age and when using speed figures he comes out on top again given his 2lb pull.
On top of this, By My Standards will have to race wide in a fast-paced event from gate 12 and concedes even more, leaving us with a fair value punt on last season’s Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner.
Owendale, Aurelius Maximus, Bodexpress and Mr Freeze were all considered but look to be some way behind.
Saturday 27th November 2020
2.25 Newbury (Intermediate Handicap Hurdle – Listed Race) – MARIE’S ROCK
There is of course always some element of risk about backing a mare who hasn’t seen a racecourse for a year but the rate of her improvement, style of her wins and the form of some of those she’s beaten potentially put Marie’s Rock into a different league here at these weights.
Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old daughter of Milan really looked the part in two hurdle wins last season, and will be better and stronger now.
She is taken to get this season off to a winning start before going into better things, with Thyme White, Milkwood, Botox Has and Sebastopol all hard to split in behind.
3.15 Newcastle (Rehearsal Handicap Chase – Listed Race) – PYM
Assuming he runs to form, this race revolves around Nicky Henderson’s Pym.
At his lowest realistic form level, he is no better than, but still up with the pace of, Cool Mix, Brave Eagle, The Butcher Said and Whatmore at these weights.
However, if he outruns that which, based not only on his chase career trajectory but also on the form of the horse’s he’s beaten, he could be anything from 2-10lbs better than this opposition and that hands us enough evidence to feel confident in backing him.
The near three-mile trip and the ground are both fine for Daryl Jacob’s mount and so he is taken to land this high-quality event.