Former Talksport presenter Charlie McCann marks your card for Kempton and Newbury, including the Hennessy, and looks to Sunday too.
Denman bids to make history by becoming the first horse to win the Hennessy Gold Cup three times this afternoon and the former Gold Cup winner is a worthy favourite despite being 8lb higher in the weights than last year when he beat stablemate What A Friend. This year Paul Nicholls has five in the race and StanJames.com bet 9/4 that one of the five hits the target.
Arkle himself couldn’t win three Hennessy Gold Cups but only five of Denman’s 17 opponents are in the handicap. Sam Thomas who rode the ten-year-old to win his first Hennessy in 2007 and his Gold Cup success the following year regains the ride following the injury to Ruby Walsh who was last year’s successful pilot. His quick nimble jumping is likely to have many of his rivals in trouble from some way out, but I take a chance with Irish challenger Pandorama (3.05) despite the fact that he is 8lbs “wrong” in the weights.
The only horse to beat Pandorama to date is the brilliant but fragile Mikael D’Haguenet (more of him later) and the seven-year-old is unbeaten in three starts over fences including the Grade 1 Novice chase at Leopardstown when last seen back in December. The runner up on that occasion was the subsequent RSA Chase winner Weapon’s Amnesty so the form is rock solid and Pandorama gave every indication that he would be best served by going left-handed. His trainer has targeted a Grade 1 Chase over Xmas as his next possible objective and Noel Meade has never been one for calling geese swans. His lack of chasing experience is a cause for concern, but he will never carry the minimum weight again and he is given the vote in a wonderful renewal.
The StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle has been hastily rearranged from snowbound Newcastle who abandoned on Thursday afternoon. The forecast heavy ground at Newcastle wouldn’t have suited the Champion Hurdler Binocular (12. 25) but he should be more at home at Newbury where the good to soft ground should be ideal. Donald McCain’s Peddlers Cross won the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival earlier in the year but he will have his work cut out against Binocular although the Champion is sure to come on for his seasonal reappearance.
On the flat at Kempton Man Of Iron was a winner at the Breeders’ Cup in Santa Anita last year but has largely disappointed since and preference is for the progressive Dreamspeed (3.50) who finished 3rd in a decent Group 3 at Newbury on turf last time. His ability to handle the artificial surface must be taken on trust but he is taken to score from Nideeb who landed a similar contest over 10f last week at Lingfield. If he stays he will be a threat to all.
Fairyhouse stage a cracking card tomorrow with no less than three Grade 1 contests including the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice chase which sees the reappearance of Mikael D’Haguenet (1.50) after a 576 day lay-off. I have always considered the horse a potential Gold Cup winner and if that is the case he must go close. He was beaten in a chase in France as a four-year-old so does have some experience of the larger obstacles.
Solwhit is the one to beat half an hour later but I am a massive Hurricane Fly fan and was staggered when the horse met with defeat on his seasonal reappearance (at the hands of Solwhit) last year. He showed when winning the Grade 1 Hurdle at Punchestown (gained his revenge on Solwhit albeit by only a neck) that he is a top class hurdler and, although he lacks the race fitness of the likely favourite, his class can prevail.
Zaidpour (1.15) was hugely impressive at Punchestown on his hurdle debut and he is taken to give Willie Mullins another Grade 1 success in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle and land the weekend nap.