Charlie McCann of BetVictor has been firing in the winners. He takes a look at the Saturday cards.
The big betting race at Newbury this afternoon is the Betfair Hurdle and I make no apologies for siding with BetVictor’s 4/1 favourite Ballyandy (3.35) for the father and son combination of Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies.
The selection won last season’s Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival but remains a maiden in three starts over timber. He has twice finished behind the 2015 Champion Bumper winner Moon Racer before finishing runner up to a subsequent Grade 1 winner (Messire Des Obeaux) at Sandown over an additional half mile.
The yard know what it takes to win the race having saddled Slash Of Ginge to land the prize back in 2014 and I would be disappointed if Ballyandy didn’t go close from a handicap mark just 1lb higher than their 2014 winner.
Hargam heads the weights in the famous green and gold silks of JP McManus although retained jockey Barry Geraghty rides Movewiththetimes (9/2 at BetVictor) for Paul Nicholls who saddled the winner back in 2012 with Zarkandar. He is considered the main danger although at a bigger price Beltor is an interesting contender at 16/1.
The Denman Chase is a cracker and I hope to see Bristol De Mai (2.25) outpoint Native River over this three mile trip although I believe the latter is a more realistic Gold Cup contender. There will be no prisoners taken with Richard Johnson sure to make it a true test on board the Hennessy/Welsh National winner but Bristol De Mai oozed class at Haydock in the Peter Marsh last time and the form was franked last weekend when runner up Otago Trail did us a favour at Sandown.
Altior (3.00) cannot be opposed in the Game Spirit Chase and I think the whole of racing are looking forward to the day when he takes on Champion Chase favourite Douvan next season although Willie Mullins, who trains the latter, could scupper those plans if he moves Douvan up in trip which he has suggested he might next term.
At Warwick On Tour (3.15) is worth a second glance for Evan Williams with Leighton Aspell taking over in the saddle. The selection ran really well at Aintree off today’s mark back in November and a repeat of that performance would make him hard to beat. Activial jumped out to his right when unshipping Richard Johnson at Kempton on his first start for Neil Mulholland last month and no surprise to see him going left-handed this afternoon.
At Uttoxeter the mare Nautical Twilight (4.00) looks to be coming to hand when third at Catterick on New Year’s Day and she has slipped back to a decent mark given she was beaten a neck off a 1lb higher mark this time last year.
At Exeter on Sunday there is a fascinating Graduation Chase with Tea For Two (3.50) taking on Alary. The latter was a “talking horse” before his British debut at Haydock last month when he jumped poorly and was eventually pulled up. This is very much a retrieval mission for the Colin Tizzard-trained runner but Tea For Two is a good horse going right-handed and was beaten less than 4l at Kempton in the King George last time.
There are four Grade 1’s at Leopardstown tomorrow and I can pass on a good word for Bunk Off Early (3.00) in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle one of six declared in the ten-runner field for trainer Willie Mullins. Ruby Walsh rides BetVictor’s 9/4 favourite Saturnas with Paul Townend on the 7/2 selection who won his sole start over timber over C&D by five lengths when well backed. He has been nibbled at in the market for the Supreme Novices’ in recent days and is 16s from 25s at BetVictor for the Festival curtain raiser.
The Irish Gold Cup is the feature race and Carlingford Lough is looking for a third successive win in the race although he might well be taken off his feet unless there is significant rain. Barry Geraghty rides the 11-year-old but I just favour Minella Rocco (4.00) who was not beaten when coming down at the last behind the ill-fated Many Clouds at Aintree when last seen in early December.
The selection has stamina in abundance having beaten Native River when landing the 4-mile NH Chase at last year’s Festival and it was reassuring to see trainer Jonjo O’Neill have a welcome winner at Doncaster on Thursday. The selection is 11/2 at BetVictor and I would be disappointed if he didn’t finish in the first three.
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