Former Talksport man Charlie McCann marks your card with eight to follow on Saturday at Chepstow, Kempton, Wetherby and Leopardstown. View selections below
Newbury have had the frost covers down all week and their excellent card this afternoon will go ahead on soft ground although it is likely to be tacky and extremely holding. The big betting race of the day is the Betfair Hurdle and a maximum field of 24 will go to post for this valuable and prestigious contest.
Calipto has been the antepost favourite for the race since we opened our book on the race but at 5/1 with BetVictor he looks short enough although if he were to drift on the day he might be worth a saver given Champion trainer Paul Nicholls insists he is well handicapped.
Sign Of A Victory wants better ground and folded tamely at Kempton on Boxing Day; look out for him back on spring ground. The each way selection is Dan Skelton’s Fascino Rustico (3.35) whose 5lb penalty for a recent win at Newcastle allows him to get into the race although the one negative is that facile success was only gained 10 days ago.
Connections are obliged to have a crack at such a valuable prize and I have been very impressed with his last two wins. The selection will jump a fence next season but at 12/1 at BetVictor he gets the nod in another top class renewal of the event.
Jonjo O’Neill has his string in excellent form and he saddles both Merry King and Milan Bound (1.50) and it is the latter who is the selection returning from a two-month break. AP McCoy takes the ride on the 7-y-old who was beaten a head by Closing Ceremony (reopposes on 11lbs worse terms) off a 4lbs lower mark when the stable were going through a quiet spell.
Only six go to post for the Denman Chase but what a race we have in prospect. Harry Topper won the corresponding race 12 months ago and everything is in his favour for a big run although he does carry a 4lb penalty. O’Neill perseveres with Taquin Du Seuil over this 3m trip but he has stamina to prove and the novice Coneygree (2.25) get the narrow vote.
Trained by Mark Bradstock the selection is unbeaten in two starts since returning from a long lay-off and he is one of three 3/1 joint favourites for the race at BetVictor. His win in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day was made easier with the falls of Saphir Du Rheu and Sausilito Sunrise but he jumps and gallops and will be hard to pass.
Sire De Grugy (3.00) was a facile winner of the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham last spring and all eyes will be on Gary Moore’s runner as he makes a belated seasonal reappearance. He must give 4lbs to the Nicholls-trained Mr Mole but I would be very disappointed if he met with defeat and there have been optimistic noises coming out of the yard. He is currently 4/5 at BetVictor and 6/1 to win today and to retain his Champion Chase crown next month.
At Warwick Kingscourt Native (1.00) can follow up his recent Kempton success dropped back in trip; he was clear of Kylemore Lough when coming down at the last over C&D on his penultimate start and that animal has won his next two by wide margins. Willie Mullins sends Fairyhouse maiden winner Arbre De Vie across the Irish Sea but I expect the prize to remain on home soil.
Glens Melody (2.40) won the listed OLBG Mares’ Hurdle 12 months ago and can follow up. That was the last time the mare got her head in front but she gave the mighty Quevega a fright at Cheltenham last March and has been running consistently well in defeat this term.
On Sunday Emerging Talent (1.55) had not been asked a serious question when coming down at Ascot last time and remains a horse of considerable potential. Chasing will be his game but he can take this listed prize at Exeter along the way.
At Leopardstown I expect the Mullins-trained Kalkir (1.15) to get his Triumph Hurdle aspirations back on track in the opening Grade 1 Hurdle and can also pass on a very good word for Alvisio Ville (2.15) from the same yard who has been well supported during the week for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.