Day One of what is now called the Ladbroke Festival takes place at Newbury today and all eyes will be on the return to action of the mighty Thistlecrack, which contests the Ladbroke Long Distance Hurdle at 3.00. Carrying all before it in its Novice Chase season and heading inexorably towards the Gold Cup last season, a tendon injury put the kibosh on those plans and necessitated a long period of recuperation.
Described as a warm up race before defending the King George on Boxing Day, Thistlecrack is even money to return with a win and, with no penalty to carry, that would usually represent an advance Crimbo prezzy – but wait – what is that lurking at the top of the race card? Step forward Unowhatimeanharry, probably the only horse in training capable of giving a fully restored Thistlecrack a run for its money.
Saddled with a 6lb penalty for its sterling efforts last season, Arry was back with a tune up over 2m4f at Aintree early last month and is 2-1 to prevail today.
So, dear reader, should you wish to bet in this race, your choice is a returning-from-injury chaser at evens or the best staying hurdler around, which has proven fitness, at 9-4.
It just has to be Arry.
The other Grade 2 on the card is at 1.50, when the Ladbrokes Novices’ Chase takes place over 2m4f and Yanworth is even money to atone for its fall at Exeter last time out.
Could be wrong, folks, but this horse has looked anything but a natural chaser in two attempts thus far and we have to take it on with the second favourite Willoughby Court at 9-4.
Winner of the Neptune at the Festival, Will made a successful chase debut at Huntingdon 4 weeks ago, warming to its task to beat a useful Henderson recruit which has hosed in subsequently. Given that Willoughby Court is miles better going left handed and Huntingdon is a right handed track, that performance was undoubtedly better than it looked and we could see a completely different horse today.
The card begins with the Ladbrokes National Hunt Maiden Hurdle at 12.20, for which the favourite is the Colin Tizzard trained Lostintranslation, which, apart from being a really rubbish film, has already been beaten twice and is no value at 9-4.
Value at 11-4 though, is the ‘Harry’ horse, Simply The Betts, which clarifies the apparent typo in the headline.
Trained by Whittington and ridden by Bannister (Harry each), this 4-y-o won an innocuous looking Bumper at Market Rasen at the end of September on Rules and racecourse debut, beating a 25-1 poke. However, that 25-1 poke has gone on to win two decent hurdles by wide margins and now owns the lofty rating of 140, so, if Simply The Betts turns up in the same form, taking care of a Maiden Hurdle should be a shoo-in.
The Ladbrokes Chase Handicap at 12.50 also holds our attention, as it sees the handicap debut of Alan King’s ultra consistent mare Dusky Legend. Plying her trade at the highest level over hurdles last season, this 7-y-o has finished second in both her chases to date and her opening mark of 137 looks generous. At 5-1 a win bet is recommended.
Back tomorrow with a look at the Hennessey – er, sorry, I mean the Ladbroke.
Unowhatimeanarry 3.00 Newbury win @ 2-1 William Hill
Willoughby Court 1.50 Newbury win @ 9-4 Ladbrokes
Simply The Betts 12.20 Newbury win @ 11-4 Winner
Dusky Legend 12.50 Newbury win @ 5-1 BetVictor