I thought last week’s e.w. selection, Definitly Red, ran a great race when finishing second in Haydock’s high class Fixed Brush handicap hurdle. Not only was it his first run in a handicap, but it was also his first outing since March. Destined now for the larger obstacles, he is definitely one to keep on the right side of in novice chases in the coming months. Saturday’s Newbury test is at the other end of the jumping spectrum, and is usually won by an animal either already proven capable of competing at the highest grade or by one that subsequently gets to the top level. Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson share the training honours with three victories apiece and both field strong candidates at the weekend.
The Nicholls runner, the 6yo Saphir Du Rheu, is the apple of his trainer’s eye, and describes him as having the speed of Kauto Star, and the stamina of Denman. Having unseated or fallen in his first two attempts at the larger obstacles at the end of last year, one wouldn’t have expected to find him heading the market for this years Hennessy, but master trainer Nicholls restored confidence by putting him back over hurdles. He won at Cheltenham in January, and came a highly commendable second in the World Hurdle at the Festival. Back over fences he trotted up in the 3m1f Gd1 novices chase at Aintree, jumping fluently and winning by an eased down, fifteen lengths and a head from Carraig Mor and Irish Saint. He reappeared at Carlisle in a three runner affair four weeks ago, and won as a 1/5 favourite should. He has plenty going for him at the weekend but a definite negative is Coneygree’s defection, leaving the Nicholls horse lumbered with top weight. It is a considerably tougher task lumping 11st12lbs, rather than his original 11st3lbs, around Newbury, in what is likely to be testing conditions,in such a competitive heat. Another slight concern would be his lack of experience in large field handicap chases, but ifTwiston-Davies has him where he usually races, just off the leaders, this strong traveller, should avoid any trouble, and despite the weight, must be on the short list.
Nicky Henderson’s 10yo Bobs Worth won the 2012 renewal of this and went on to win the 2013 Gold Cup. He won the Lexus Gold Cup at the end of the same year, but disappointed in his next four runs and failed to hit the back of the net again until scoring in an Aintree hurdle three weeks ago, when beating stable companion Simonsig in an inconclusive affair. The handicapper has certainly cut him plenty of slack as he races on Saturday off a mark 27lbs lower than his career high and indeed is 7lbs lower than for his 2012 win. While there must be serious doubts about how much ability remains, coming from this yard his chance has to be respected.
Neil Mulholland’s 6yo The Young Master looked a very exciting prospect when winning The Badger Ales handicap last November off a mark of 130 in most impressive fashion. While winning totally on merit, he had the race taken off him on the grounds of “not being qualified to run” and had to compete off a new mark 14lbs higher in his next race, a Cl1 handicap at Ascot six weeks later. Despite a tendency to jump left he raced up with the pace all the way and stayed on strongly to beat last years Hennessy second, Houblon Des Obeaux, by 2 1/2L. He ran far too freely in the RSA chase at the festival finishing a well beaten seventh, but made a satisfactory reappearance when finishing second to Saphir Du Rheu at Carlisle three weeks ago. Like the winner he is bound to come on for the race and meeting the Nicholls horse on 12lbs better terms on Saturday, (including Waley-Cohen’s 3lbs claim) this very progressive young chaser looks well handicapped with his nice racing weight of 10st10lbs. With stamina not an issue, (has won a hurdle race over 27f on heavy ground), this strong traveller looks set to run a big race at the weekend.
Philip Hobbs, who won the 2001 renewal with the 7yo What’s Up Boys tries with another of the same age, If In Doubt. He won a competitive handicap at Doncaster off a mark of 139 last January, despite a far from fluent round of jumping, and again clobbered plenty when finishing fifth in the RSA Chase at the Festival 8L behind Don Poli. However he did come up the hill with some gusto and would have got third place in another twenty yards. He was subsequently pulled up in the Irish National and makes his seasonal debut on Saturday. If his jumping errors have been ironed out, and who better than Philip Hobbs to do it? If In Doubt, looks a very well handicapped contender.
Alan King blames the lack of a previous run for Smad Place’s early capitulation in last years renewal. Indeed he feels that the horses entire season was negatively affected. So determined not to make the same mistake again he ran him at Kempton four weeks ago where he looked back to his best, jumping soundly and staying on strongly. Placed in two World Hurdles, Smad Place has a touch of class about him, and it would come as no surprise to see him involved at the business end at the weekend.
Selection: The Young Master.
E.W. : Smad Place.