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

newbury betfair chase

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

bet365 Charlie Hall Chase (Grade2) 3m Wetherby Saturday

charlie hall chaseSaturday sees the first Grade2 action over fences of the season, and with 12 contenders, nearly all for whom a credible case can be made, it promises to be a real cracker. The Naunton yard of Nigel Twiston-Davies has sent out the winner on 5 previous occasions, (the first time with Tipping Tim 27 years ago) and the stable will be hoping their talented 9yo, Ballyoptic, can bring home the bacon for a 6th time.

A son of the top class jumps sire, Old Vic, he has won 3 of his 11 starts over fences, including a Grade2 heat over Saturday’s course and distance, (The Towton Novices Chase on Heavy ground) in February 2018. His fortunes have certainly been of the mixed variety since, losing out by the minimum distance in the 4 mile Scottish Grand National in April 2018, and falling twice over the Big Aintree fences including in this year’s Grand National (came to grief 4 out). However he made a bright start to this year’s campaign, making all, and jumping with aplomb he came home 9L clear of
Lil Rockefeller in a 3m Class2 Chepstow Handicap three weeks ago. Relatively lightly raced for his age there may be further improvement in him and coming from this yard is one to keep on the right side of.

Paul Nicholls has won this 3 times, twice with the 1999 Gold Cup Hero, See More Business, and with Silviniaco Conti seven years ago. He relies on the tough and consistent runner up in last year’s renewal, Black Corton, and the 8yo certainly did his prospects no harm with an excellent effort in the Uber competitive, Galway Plate last time out. Carrying top weight in the 22 runner handicap, he finished 2nd but may have been a little unlucky, as he was going really well when hampered by a loose horse and carried right on the run in. Beaten 2L by Definitely Red in last year’s renewal, he didn’t seem to quite get home, but he looks a stronger and improved animal this year, and it could be close between them.

Last year’s victor, now 10, is trained close to the course in North Yorkshire by the talented Brian Ellison, (trains last week’s Oddsguru selection, Forest Bihan, who didn’t take up his Cheltenham engagement but went for the more valuable Old Roan Chase at Aintree the following day, a race he won very comfortably) and Brian is currently operating at an amazing 50% win to runners ratio (8 wins from last 16 runners).
Following his win in The Charlie Hall, Definitely Red won again, an Aintree Grade2, 5 weeks later, but finished his season well beaten in the Punchestown Gold Cup at the beginning of May. However, following the same pattern as last year, he is making his seasonal debut, and following a recent workout on the course, Mr Ellison reports him in rude health. With a course record of 2 wins and 2 places from 4 starts, and meeting Black Corton on 3 lbs better terms, his prospects of joining the elite band of Celtic Shot, 90 91, One Man, 96 97, and See More Business, 2000 2001, as the only consecutive winners of The Charlie Hall are hard to ignore.

charlie hall greatrex

In the Bague? Warren Greatrex saddles our leading fancy

The exciting mare, La Bague Au Roi won 4 of her 5 starts over fences, (including 2 at the top level) and didn’t look suited by the drop to 20f last time, when despite running on strongly, she was beaten 1 1/2L by Kalashnikov in an Aintree Grade1 in April. The apple of trainer Warren Greatrex’s eye, she can go well after a break, and back up in trip, with her nice Mares allowance a bonus, is well worth considering.

Having only been beaten 1 1/2L by the seriously upwardly mobile Frodon in Cheltenham’s Ryan Air Chase last time out, the Venetia Williams trained 9yo Aso, is top rated for Saturday’s heat, and if the race was run over 4f shorter, would probably be at the head of the market. However, he has only run beyond 21f twice in his 30 race career, and didn’t seem to get home on either occasion. However, that said, his shrewd trainer certainly knows the time of day, and may be hoping the undemanding Wetherby track will suit,  and her talented 9yo is another who can go well after a break.

Colin Tizzard won with the outstanding Cue Card four years ago and will be hoping his progressive 7yo, Elegant Escape can bring the prize back to Milborne Port for a second time. One thing is for sure the son of Dubai Destination won’t fail for a lack of stamina as he certainly wasn’t stopping when winning last year’s 3m5 1/2f Welsh Grand National. He ran another excellent race in the 3m 1 1/2f Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in January finishing a staying on 2nd to Frodon who was conceding 2lbs. He failed to make any impression in the Gold Cup or in an Aintree Grade1 20 days later and hasn’t been seen since. I just wonder if he has the pace for a race like Saturday’s and unless the heavens open he may find them going a little too quick.

Selection : La Bague Au Roi

EW.           : Ballyoptic

John Gray