All eyes on Newbury today, with an impressive card including the very valuable Betfair Hurdle at 3.35, preceded by two Grade 2 Chases which see the return to action of Altior and Native River.
24 are due to go to post for the Betfair and it’s 10-1 the field, which price brings in the ‘handicap blot’ Irish Roe and the rejuvenated Jenkins, one of five trained by Nicky Henderson.
Irish Roe is 11lbs ‘well in’ for this early closing race, having bustled up Maria’s Benefit in a Grade 2 at Doncaster and it would be a bit of a fairy tale if this consistent 7-y-o could win for her two-horse yard. However, with graded form not guaranteed to translate back into handicaps, we think this might be a step too far.
James Bowen keeps the ride on Jenkins, which is finally beginning to justify the hyperbole thrown at it earlier in its career, but, off effectively 7lbs higher than for its latest run, the bubble may burst.
Our first crack at unravelling this puzzle is another of NJH ‘s inmates and that is Kayf Grace, available each way at 12-1. The choice of Nico de Boinville, this 8-y-o had a year on the sidelines through injury and was far too fresh on her return to action when behind Lalor at Ascot in November. However, a completely different horse was on view at Kempton at the end of December, when she simply toyed with the opposition to win easily off a mark of 132. An eight pound hike will make it more difficult, but in winning the big Aintree Bumper in 2016 she beat horses now rated in the high 150s, so today’s 140 should hold no fears.
Having a quiet lurk at the bottom of the handicap is our other suggestion for this race in the shape of Zalvados, available at 40-1. Statistically, novices have won this race in 6 of the past 8 years and the last 11 winners have been aged 5 or 6, so the facts that Zalvados is a 5-y-o and a novice is a good start. Add to that some sterling placed efforts and a first victory last time out, mix in first-time blinkers and a capable 7lb claimer and you have yourself a wager, major.
The two Graded Chases at 2.25 and 3.00 are both three runner affairs and with both Altior and Native River trading at odds-on, we can but watch for clues for next month’s minor meeting in the Cotswolds.
The card kicks off with the Read Paul Nicholls Exclusively At Betfair Novices Hurdle at 1.15 and Mr Henderson has the odds-on fav in this with Whatswrongwithyou. Having beaten yesterday’s impressive winner OK Corral over this CD last month it would appear to be folly to oppose it and, with the second favourite boasting impressive Bumper form and only a 3-1 shot, finding a bet may look difficult – but we have.
5th behind the favourite last time was Nelson’s Touch, on stable debut for Seamus Mullins, running a race full of promise before ‘blowing up’ before the last. With excellent Bumper form for Dennis Coakley last season, we make this a sporting each way bet at 20-1.
The Betfair Cash Out Handicap Hurdle at 1.50 sees the return to action of Barters Hill, off the track since an abortive switch to fences in November 2016. Dropped 8lbs during the layoff and being aimed at the Stayers Hurdle, it would have to win this and win it well to justify hopes and aspirations. At 5-2 we take it to do just that and recommend a win bet.
In case Plan A goes horrible wrong, we also recommend an each way bet in this race on Book Of Gold at 8-1. Trained by Oliver Sherwood, this 6-y-o finished a good second to the latent improver Tommy Rapper last time out and is bred to come into its own over today’s trip. A mark of 123 for handicap debut could be an under-assessment.
The Betfair Each Way Edge Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase at 4.10 should provide a good opportunity for Duke Des Champs to make up for lost time. Yet another horse returning from injury, DDC ran a really promising race on debut over fences at the end of December when second to Rocklander on this course. Off the same mark today, let’s trust Dickie to steer it home at 11-4.
Kayf Grace 3.35 Newbury e/w @ 12-1 William Hill
Zalvados 3.35 newbury e/w @ 40-1 888Sport
Nelson’s Touch 1.15 Newbury e/w @ 20-1 Ladbrokes
Barters Hill 1.50 Newbury win @ 5-2 SkyBet
Book Of Gold 1.50 Newbury e/w @ 8-1 StanJames
Duke Des Champs 4.10 Newbury win @ 11-4 Coral