Paul Ferguson has three selections today including Sprinter Sacre (12.10, Newb) and Empire Levant (13.15, Newb). Compare odds.
Paul Nicholls holds a really strong hand in this afternoon’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury with ante-post favourite Zarkandar looking potentially well in at the weights, but the trainer has openly stated this is not his number one target and I’d rather back stable-mate Empire Levant (1:15) each-way at much bigger odds.
Ruby Walsh favours Zarkandar, which is hardly surprising and there is a chance he could run away with this if he really is to be a genuine Champion Hurdle contender, but the big grey Empire Levant is also an unexposed five-year-old who showed much improved form at the track at the Hennessy meeting in November.
Part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, he bolted up in a conditional jockeys’ contest off a mark of 128 on the opening day of that fixture, before chasing home another stable-mate and Champion hopeful Rock On Ruby in the Gerry Fielden just two days later.
The selection once again powered through that race and hit the front going well, before being outgunned by the Christmas Hurdle runner-up. He had Raya Star (won The Ladbroke next time) back in third and Alarazi back in fifth that day and, even though he’s up 12lbs since then, he can confirm the form after a break on his favoured decent ground.
He has a bit to find with Sire De Grugy on their meeting in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle last February, but he has improved plenty since and is worth a sporting bet each-way at 16/1 with Bet365 paying out on the first five places.
At much shorter odds, it will be disappointing if Arkle favourite Sprinter Sacre (12:10) can’t maintain his 100% record over fences in the opening Game Spirit Chase.
Sadly, the 5/4 ante-post bet we struck for last week’s race no longer stands, but Nicky Henderson’s hugely exciting six-year-old is still worth backing en route to Cheltenham, with his jumping being hugely impressive on both starts over the larger obstacles to date.
Henderson, who saddles no fewer than 17 runners at this afternoon’s three meetings including Gold Cup winner Long Run in the Denman Chase and three in the Betfair Hurdle, looks set for a big day and Barbers Shop (4:15) should be very hard to beat in the hunters’ chase at Fakenham.
The 10-year-old hasn’t run since pulling-up behind Diamond Harry in last season’s Hennessy Gold Cup, but it’s only just over two years since he finished third to Kauto Star in the King George of 2009 and, if he is anywhere near his best, he should outclass these rivals, especially as his two main market rivals must give him 8lbs.
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Last Year’s Tips Included 40 Leading Prospects: £499.80 profit to a level £10!
- AL FEROF won Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 10-1
- BENSALEM won Stewart Family Handicap 5-1
- BOBS WORTH won A Bartlett 15-8, 4/4 for year
- CAPTAIN CHRIS won Arkle Trophy 6-1
- FIRST LIEUTENANT won Neptune Investment 7-1
- (plus Grade 1 in Ireland 16-1)
- JAMES DE VASSY won Lanzarote Hurdle 8-1
- LONG RUN won King George 9-2, Gold Cup 7-2
- OSCAR WHISKY won Aintree Hurdle 6-1
- Peddlers Cross (Fighting Fifth Hurdle)
- Medermit (Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase)
- FINIAN’S RAINBOW (Maghull Novices’ Chase)
- WISHFULL THINKING (Manifesto Novices’ Chase)