Alan Thomson, the former Racing Editor at the Daily Record, puts up five tips at Chepstow, Kempton and Wetherby on Saturday. View selections below.
ON TOUR (3.35) can reward the patience of trainer Evan Williams by landing another terrific renewal of the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. The Welsh wizard has kept On Tour under wraps since the ultra-consistent seven-year-old completed a hat-trick of wins at Haydock in November. Fourth horse Dawalan has given the form a healthy boost by scoring subsequently at Aintree and Musselburgh, the latter success coming off a mark of 142. On Tour races off 138 here, which should make him very competitive. Calipto has topped the ante-post lists for several weeks and Paul Nicholls’ five-year-old may have been an unlucky loser in last season’s JCB Triumph Hurdle. However, the form of that event has not worked out and he could prove vulnerable to several of his rivals, notably On Tour and Harry Fry’s Activial. The handicapper raised Activial 6lb for his excellent third to Bayan in The Ladbroke at Ascot before Christmas when a peck at the penultimate flight caused him to lose momentum. Runner-up Pine Creek re-opposes on similar terms and is another to consider.
HOUBLON DES OBEAUX (2.25) is fancied to gain just reward for two sterling efforts this season when six runners go to post for the Betfair Denman Chase. Venetia Williams’ eight-year-old kicked off his campaign by chasing home Many Clouds in the Hennessy at Newbury and the winner catapulted himself into the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture by going on to scoop the BetBright Cup at Cheltenham last month. On his next outing, Houblon Des Obeaux had the misfortune to run into another very progressive chaser in The Young Master at Ascot but lost little in defeat trying to concede 17lb to the winner. Coneygree, a popular Boxing Day winner at Kempton, will again have his loyal band of supporters, along with Nicholls’ recent Sandown victor Unioniste.
SIRE DE GRUGY (3.00) takes an important step towards the defence of his champion chaser crown in March when reappearing from a muscle injury in the Betfair Price Rush Chase. He is entitled to be a shade ring-rusty but oozes class against some decent, but hardly earth-shattering, opposition. The best of them could be Mr Mole, whose confidence is sky-high after posting victories at Exeter and Sandown.
CLOSING CEREMONY (1.50) very much catches the eye in the three-mile handicap hurdle. Emma Lavelle’s gelding ran a stormer in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle qualifier at Warwick, chasing home Jonjo O’Neill’s Join The Clan. The winner, in receipt of 22lb that day, has since recorded a smooth Wetherby success from an 11lb higher perch, so the form line looks rock-solid.
On an exciting Warwick card, VIBRATO VALTAT (2.40) can edge out Top Gamble in the titanbet-sponsored Kingmaker Novices’ Chase. The Nicholls-trained market leader recorded a course and distance success over Thomas Crapper in November and has since gone from strength-to-strength. Vibrato Valtat quickened in the manner of a progressive sort to score at Sandown and Kempton, and may have too many guns for the admirable Top Gamble. Richard Lee has placed him to perfection, landing nice prizes at Wetherby, Warwick and Newbury, and his slick jumping makes him a dangerous opponent.
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