• Fri 9 Dec, 2016
  • 11:30 GMT
  • 07:30 ET (GMT-4)
  • 13:30 CET (GMT+2)

Fergie’s early weekend pointers

With the weather playing havoc with this week’s cards, Paul Ferguson looks ahead at the weekend’s racing with a number of potential winners to keep an eye on

With Wetherby and Fontwell the latest casualties to the weather, we are left with just all-weather action from Kempton and Lingfield and a fairly average jumps card at Limerick, so it seems the perfect time to take an early look at the weekend’s action.

Newbury stages the Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday, for which Nicky Henderson’s Bobs Worth has been favourite since the ante-post market opened. While a mark of 160 hardly screams at him being ‘chucked in’ the long straight and 3m2f trip look right up his street and last season’s novice chasers have already proven themselves a high-class crop in the early weeks of this season.

A winner on his chase debut at this meeting last year, he also won first time out over hurdles (unbeaten in his four races over timber) and clearly goes well fresh. Not a flashy individual, he remains capable of going to the top over fences, but the worry would be the ground. His participation is still to be confirmed, though due to the fact that he has been trained for the race, I’d be surprised if he didn’t line up. He is on the slide (out to 4/1 overnight) at present and I can see the bookmakers wanting to get him on Saturday morning, so he is one we should wait for, especially as we will be able to see how bad the ground is on Thursday and Friday.

Should the ground be as testing as some of the reports are suggesting, then I think Tidal Bay and Alfie Spinner, who are from contrasting ends of the handicap, are a pair that would make plenty of each-way appeal.

The former is burdened with top-weight, but the softer the better for him and Ruby Walsh will no doubt creep in to the contest as late as possible, while Alfie Spinner is a couple of pounds out of the handicap so carries just 10 stone.

Backing horses from out of the handicap isn’t something I like doing very often, but he’s only 2lb ‘wrong’ and Nick Williams has booked a 3lb claimer to offset this. He stayed on well on his seasonal return at Ascot recently and has a cracking record when racing on testing ground. His form figures over both hurdles and fences on soft or heavy read 115421 and he has also won at the track, albeit over hurdles. I’m not surprised he was proving popular around the 16/1 mark yesterday.

Finally Irish raider First Lieutenant is another potential high-class runner in the race and there isn’t much between him and Bobs Worth, yet he is three times the price. Both Cheltenham Festival winners in their novice hurdle seasons, there was just 2½ lengths between them in the RSA Chase in March and Mouse Morris’ charge ran a sound race when chasing home Kauto Stone at Down Royal last time. He is another, however, who has yet to be committed to the contest.

The focus on Sunday switches to Ireland, with Fairyhouse staging three Grade 1s including a couple of cracking novice events. The Royal Bond Novice Hurdle has gone the way of Willie Mullins three times in the past four years (with Dunguib only breaking his sequence) and he may well rely on Champion Bumper winner Champagne Fever this time around.

An easy winner of a weak maiden hurdle just two weeks ago, he ought to take some stopping and opened up at Evs with Boylesports on Tuesday evening. Classy Flat performer Minsk is next best in the market, with Jezki and Clonbanan Lad adding further strength to the race. While there may only be a handful of runners, this ought to prove an informative contest and one that has gone the way of Hardy Eustace and Hurricane Fly in the past decade.

The Drinmore Novice Chase looks potentially even more informative, with Dedigout, Buckers Bridge and Arvika Ligeonniere all impressive debutant winners. The former heads the betting after an impressive 34 lengths romp in heavy ground on his return at Punchestown last month.

Henry De Bromhead’s Buckers Bridge beat last Sunday’s impressive winner Sword Of Destiny (also entered here, but I suspect Dedigout will represent Gigginstown House Stud, who won the race with Bog Warrior last year) and is completely unexposed having only run in two bumpers last term. He remains a smart prospect, but his lack of experience is a slight negative in this exalted company.

The one I like at this stage is Arvika Ligeonniere, who is yet another to score at Punchestown on his debut over fences, when running out an impressive winner after more than two years off.

Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old jumped with aplomb and won the same beginners chase that Sizing Europe won back in 2009. The ground won’t be a problem for him, neither will the trip (which could end up being his optimum) and the fact he’s been off the track since May isn’t a concern either, given he won after a lengthy break last time.

It is not known at this stage if he will take his chance (connections also have Mikael D’Haguenet entered) but, if given the green light, he looks a sound proposition at his opening price of 3/1. Keep tabs on the press to see if he’s given the go ahead.

In the meantime, I’ll be back tomorrow when I’ll be covering the opening day of the Hennessy meeting from Newbury. Hopefully Taunton, Thurles and Uttoxeter all beat the weather, too.

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Last Year’s Book Results – Leading Prospects:

  • SPRINTER SACRE – Unbeaten – winner at Aintree & Cheltenham
  • SIMONSIG – Winner at Aintree & Cheltenham
  • CINDERS AND ASHES – 10/1 winner of Supreme Novices Hurdle
  • BOBS WORTH – 9/2 winner of the RSA Chase
  • MENORAH & SILVINIACO CONTI – Both Aintree Winners
  • SIR DES CHAMPS – Unbeaten inc 3/1 Jewson Cheltenham Winner
  • FINGAL BAY – Won 4 times inc Challow Hurdle
  • RAYA STAR – 10/3 winner at Wetherby, 12/1 Ladbroke Hurdle winner, 15/2 Scottish Champion Hurdle winner
  • AMBION WOOD – 14/1 EBF Final Sandown winner
  • CHAMPION COURT – 6/1 G2 Dipper Novices Chase winner
  • PALACE JESTER – 14/1 winner at FFos Las
  • SWINCOMBE FLAME – Hat-trick winner inc Lanzarote Hurdle at 9/2
  • TEAFOR THREE – 5/1 NH Cheltenham Chase winner (Manifesto Novices’ Chase)

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