Betfair Hurdle (Handicap) (Grade3) (Class1) 2m1/2f Newbury Saturday

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Willie Mullins saddles the handily weighted Ciel De Niege

One of the major handicaps in the calendar, The Betfair In recent years has become the preserve of the unexposed, younger hurdler, and the last 13 renewals have been won by either a five or six year old. Nicky Henderson with 5 wins is the most successful handler, (last win came with JP McManus’s My Tent Or Yours seven years ago) but the best recent record belongs to Naunton trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has won 3 of the last 6 runnings, including last year with the 6yo Al Dancer, and he looks to have another strong hand this year with Stolen Silver and Sir Valentine.

The former, a French bred 5yo son of the good NH stallion Lord Du Sud, has won 2 of his 4 starts over timber and put in a career topping effort last time when getting up in the last stride to win the Grade2 Rossington Main Novices Hurdle at Haydock 3 weeks ago. Hanging left before 2 out on the heavy ground he seemed outpaced, but rallied strongly inside the final 150yards to claim the scalp of the 142 rated Edwardstone. He has been given a mark of 148 for Saturday giving him 11-7 to carry which looks tough for a 5yo but is clearly improving and would be well suited by plenty of rain.

Nigel’s second string, the 7yo ex flat racer, Sir Valentine, with just 4 starts over hurdles is pretty unexposed. He looked destined for second place when falling at the last when making his debut over the smaller obstacles last October, but 27 days later looked much more the finished article when winning a Novice Hurdle over Saturday’s course and distance in quite taking style. His next 2 efforts were more workmanlike, finishing 2/13 in a Wetherby Novices, (Soft) and stepped up to Grade3 level finishing 3/13 to Saturday’s market leader, Not So Sleepy in the Sandown mud 7 weeks ago. He finished
13 1/2L behind the winner, who clearly revelled in the heavy ground at the Esher Track, but Sir Valentine is 17lbs better off on Saturday, and given the likely more suitable going at the weekend, needs considering off his low weight of 10-3.

Legendary owner, JP Mc Manus’s record in the race in the last decade reads an impressive 2 wins and 3 seconds, so clearly The Betfair is a heat very much on his radar. He has 3 entered at the 5 days declarations and of the three the one that catches the eye is the Willie Mullins trained Ciel De Neige. A 5yo, French bred son of Authorized, has failed to catch the judges eye in any of his 6 starts, (3 in his native France) but making his debut for his new connections, Mullins and McManus, in last year’s Fred Winter off a mark of 132 at The Cheltenham Festival, he ran an excellent race to finish 3/21. Racing for the first time over English style obstacles he was only 3 3/4L behind the 139 rated winner, Band Of Outlaws, and but for a mistake 3 out would have finished closer. The winner went on to land the Galway Hurdle and is now rated on a mark of 149 which makes the Mullins horse look very well treated on 135 on Saturday. Shrewdly, Ciel De Neige was put away for the season after Cheltenham and hasn’t damaged his mark by finishing 2nd (almost collided with railings and mistake 2 out, finished strongly, just denied) in a modest Limerick Maiden 6 weeks ago.  With the nice racing weight of 10-8 he has to be of serious interest.

Philip Hobbs has yet to win a Betfair but with 3 entered, including the top weight,
Gumball, he is clearly intent on improving his record. Gumball, with the steadier of 11-12 will have his work cut out and preference is for the 7yo, Oakley. A winner of 2 of his 7 starts, the son of Oscar has made steady progress this term, and ran his best race to date when finishing 2nd in a Cheltenham Class3 last time. (Dec13 2m1f Soft)
Ridden to take it up after the last, he was headed in the final 100yds, and found the concession of 23lbs to the neck winner Repetito just too much. Saturday’s opponent, the Nicky Henderson trained Never Adapt, (Racing in the Green And Gold Mc Manus livery) was a further 1 1/2L back in third and meets Oakley on a pound worse terms. However it was Never Adapt’s first run for 391 days and he landed a Kempton Handicap 4 weeks ago for the Seven Barrows handler so it could be close between them.

The Harry Fry trained 6yo, Lightly Squeeze hasn’t beaten much in his last 3 races but couldn’t have done it more easily, and was particularly impressive last time winning a modest Plumpton Handicap by 14L. Harry must have been quietly hoping that the 5lbs claimer would have put the brakes on a bit earlier as the son of Poet’s Voice was landed with a whopping 17lbs hike in the weights for his facile victory. An ex flat racer, he failed to failed to trouble the judge in any of his 4 starts over hurdles for his previous handler but since joining the Fry operation his record stands at 3/6 and with Welsh Ace, Sean Bowen, doing the steering on Saturday it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see him involved at the business end.

If connections Champion Hurdle ambitions are to be realised, the Hughie Morrison trained, Not So Sleepy, will need to win Saturday’s race off his mark of 144. Rated 94 on the flat (4th in last year’s Cesarewitch) the son of Beat Hollow is a latecomer to the jumping game and he never jumped a Hurdle in public until January last year. However his score is now 3/5 in his new discipline  and he got his connections collective pulses racing, with two impressive Ascot victories in his last two races, winning a Class2 Handicap off a mark of 122 in November, and even more eye catchingly, landing the Grade3 Class1 Betfair Exchange Trophy by 9L in the Berkshire mud 29 days later off a 5 lbs higher mark. Clearly a talented animal, but he does seem to need the mud flying to produce his best, and with a dry week forecast he may struggle to defy his 17 lbs higher mark, and a waiting brief is advised.

The Evan Williams trained 6yo, Mack The Man is another whose form is on a strong upwards trajectory and he took the step up in Class in his stride when winning a Sandown Class1 last time off a mark of 122. (Dec7 Heavy). In his previous race he had beaten Saturdays opponent Lightly Squeeze giving him 6lbs and meets Harry Fry’s contender on 7 lbs better at the weekend. However don’t read too much into this as Light Squeeze has clearly improved in the meantime. Nevertheless Mack The Man looks really well handicapped on a mark of 130, giving him a lovely racing weight of
10-3.

Selection.      : Ciel De Neige.     If abs Mack The Man

EW.                 : Oakley.             Lightly Squeeze
John Gray

Unibet Tolworth Novices Hurdle (Grade1) 2miles Sandown Saturday

nicky henderson oddsguru

Henderson saddles Son of Camas

Following the superb racing we have enjoyed over the holiday period, Saturday’s fare has a distinctly pedestrian feel about it, but Sandown, which hosts the only Grade1 action of the weekend, lightens the gloom a little with a pretty competitive looking field for their top level TolworthNovices Hurdle. Don’t expect to see a future Champion Hurdler on display at the Esher track on Saturday as the 38 runnings since it’s inception in 1976 have yet to produce one, but plenty of top class animals, including the mighty Desert Orchid in 1984, have graced the winners enclosure. Indeed more recently, the 2018 winner, Summerville Boy, went on to win The Supreme Novices, and the 2016 winner, Yorkhill, collected the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival. Nicky Henderson has won the race 5 times and Paul Nicholls 4, but the trainer with the best recent record, winning 2 of the last 3 renewals, has to be Colin Tizzard, and he fields another likely looking contender this time, the 6yo, Fiddlerontheroof.

Unplaced in 2 PTP’S, his sole success came in a Navan NHF race before joining the Dorset handler from Ireland in October. His first run for his new yard, in Chepstow’s Grade2 Persian War Novices Hurdle, (2m3 1/2f Gd/Sft Oct 11) was a highly promising one. Racing prominently throughout, he jumped ahead at the 2nd last, but was outstayed by the winner Thyme Hill, and was beaten by 2L. However, as the winner went on to win his next 2 races, including Newbury’s Grade1 Challow Hurdle, this was a pretty smart effort by the Tizzard horse on this his hurdling debut. Back at 2miles on Good ground for a Wincanton Novices 29 days later, he looked as if he would be suited by a stiffer test when going down by 3/4L to the subsequent Aintree winner, Edwardstone. He made no mistake next time, winning a 2 mile Novices on Heavy ground over Saturday’s course and distance very easily by 7L from the 128 rated Arrivederci, and if similar conditions prevail on Saturday, will be hard to beat.

The upwardly mobile trainer, Gavin Cromwell, will be hoping to become only the 2nd Irish based handler, (Willie Mullins won 4 years ago with Yorkhill) to land the spoils with his very promising mare, Jeremy’s Flame. The 6yo has won one of her 4 starts over timber, a Listowel Maiden on her hurdling debut last September, and has run well in her last 2 races, going down by 1 1/4L in a Mares Grade3 at Down Royal at the beginning of November, and again finishing a close 2nd, when beaten by the 138 rated Henderson Mare, Floressa, at Newbury 5 weeks ago. By the very successful dual purpose Stallion, Jeremy, there could be plenty more to come from the Irish mare, and her 7lbs Mares allowance, will also come in very handy on Saturday.

The market is headed by the Emma Lavelle trained, 6yo, Hang In There, and since coming to the Wiltshire yard from Margaret Mullins in Ireland last October, has won 2 of his 3 starts. Indeed if the market had it right, (he started a hot 1/2fav) he would have a 100% record for the yard, as following severe interference, he unseated at the first on his debut for the stable in October. Since that mishap it has been a case of upwards and onwards, with easy victories in an Exeter Maiden, and impressively last time, when taking a big step up in class, he landed Cheltenham’s Grade2 Supreme Trial Novices Hurdle by 3L from the 140 rated Pacify, (100 on the flat) 7 weeks ago. By the 4 times Ascot Gold Cup winner, Yeats, out of a mare that has produced the winner of the 3m4f Cork Grand National, Hang In There, could find Saturday’s trip on the sharp side, but he did show plenty of toe in that Cheltenham Grade2 heat, quickening impressively turning in, to go 5L clear, and putting the result beyond doubt. (Looks a big price at the 25/1 currently available about him for the Supreme at Cheltenham in March)

5 times winning trainer, N. Henderson, will be hoping to make it 6 with his contender, Son Of Camas. The son of Miler, Creachadoir, has only run 3 times, and was  sent off the 2/1 favourite for a valuable Punchestown Bumper on the first of them last April  where he finished last of the 19 runners. However, he has won both his starts since, a Newbury NHF race in November, and 3 weeks later a Maiden Hurdle in workmanlike fashion at the same venue. Saturday represents a serious step up in class, but Son Of Camas must have been showing plenty at Seven Barrows before that valuable Punchestown heat, and it won’t be the biggest surprise if he rises to the occasion.

The Fergal O’Brien trained Silver Hallmark won an Irish PTP in fine style 13 months ago, and in his first race under rules (2m1/2f NHF Newbury March 2) finished 7L behind the Paul Nicholls trained, triple NHF flat race winner, Mc Fabulous, but in his next race, 249 days later, making his hurdling debut, he beat the Nicholls horse by 4L in a Chepstow Maiden. The runner up hasn’t exactly advertised the form, (last of 4 beaten 15L in an Ascot Grade2 next time) but Silver Hallmark remains an animal of some potential.

Selection.        : Hang In There
Danger             : Son Of Camas

John Gray

Betting Preview BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase

betting-preview-betbright-best-for-festival-betting-handicap-chaseBetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase 2m5f (new) Cheltenham Sunday – With nine of the last ten winners returned at odds of 8/1 or less, and the “Jolly” hitting the back of the net on the last three occasions, the contest has certainly been punter friendly, and long may this happy state of affairs continue. Previous Cheltenham form has been a significant guide as seven of the last ten winners had won over the course, and indeed two of the last three winners of Decembers contest, The Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (also run over the new course) have doubled up here, Village Vic last year, and Double Ross two years ago.

With two wins and three places from nine runners over the past decade, the Twiston Davies yard knows what is required and have two left in at the time of writing, Bristol De Mai and Foxtail Hill. The latter needs a half dozen to come out to get a run, so the 6yo Bristol De Mai is the one to concentrate on.

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Nigel Twiston Davies’ in-form Gloucestershire yard could well throw up yet another winner according to the Oddsguru

He was well beaten on his reappearance in a two horse affair at Carlisle after a six month break, but showed the benefit, when running a very solid race in the 2m7 1/2f Rehersal Chase at Newcastle last time. Racing off Sunday’s mark of 154 he finished second to Otago Trail with Definitly Red, who was in receipt of 12lbs, 1 1/4L back in third. As the latter absolutely hosed up in the Roland Meyrick at Wetherby on Monday, the form looks rock solid. The drop back in trip should be an advantage, and as he showed that the undulations of Prestbury Park hold no fears when finishing second to Black Hercules in the JLT at the festival in March, he clearly has plenty going for him. A slight concern would be that no animal rated in the one fifties has won since Fondment won off 152 ten years ago, but a literal interpretation of the Rehersal Chase form does make him look well handicapped on 154.

The Paul Nicholls trained 7yo, As De Mee was over 14L behind Bristol De Mai in the JLT at the festival, and meets the Twiston-Davies contender on only 7lbs better terms here, but does look an improved animal this term. He won first time up, at Fontwell in October, and last time looked really good when winning a Class2 handicap over the National Fences at Aintree twenty nine days ago off a mark of 137. However in between, doubts were raised about his affinity for Cheltenham, when disappointing in the BetVictor Gold Cup over the course in November, and indeed he has only managed one placing, (over hurdles) from his four course appearances. Despite this it has to be said that he looked good at Aintree, and as the sole representative of the Ditcheat powerhouse, racing off a mark of 145, he has to be considered.

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Backers of Thomas Crapper could be feeling flush on Sunday

The 10yo Thomas Crapper is now reaching the veteran stage but does go well here and has won twice over Cheltenham’s smaller obstacles. Fitted with a tongue strap in the BetVictorGold Cup he ran well to finish 6th, 15L behind the winner, and has had a minor soft palate operation since, to aid his breathing. Trainer Dickin, reports him in fine fettle, and with just 10st in the plate, it would come as no surprise to see him involved at the business end.

With two wins and three places from his ten course appearances, the redoubtable winner of last year’s race, Village Vic, clearly feels very much at home on the Prestbury Park turf, and is likely to lead them all a merry dance again on Sunday. However he is 14lbs higher than last year, and failed by a neck to defy a 3lbs lower mark in the “BetVictor” in November, and could only manage a gallant third in the “Caspian Caviar” twenty two days ago off Sunday’s mark of 158. While it would be great to see this brave animal prevail, he has it all to do with 11st11bs on his back.

Nicky Henderson’s 8yo Vaniteux has mostly been campaigned at trips shorter than Sunday’s 20f but this winner of two of his six chases looks as if a step up in distance will suit.

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Will Nicky Henderson be all smiles with Vaniteux?

Having his first run for seven months he finished a respectable third behind Sire De Grugy and Quite By Chance over 2m1f at Ascot, and put in another solid performance when again finishing 3rd over 2m1/2f here at Cheltenham twenty two days ago. A winner of an Aintree Grade2 chase, this French bred has a touch of class about him, and quite stoutly bred, by Voix Du Nord out of a video rock mare, is likely to enjoy the step up in trip and even off his mark of 154, has to be on the shortlist.

Selection : Vaniteux

E.W.          Bristol De Mai