Alan Thomson, the former Racing Editor at the Daily Record, puts up five tips at Newbury and Newcastle on Saturday. View selections below.
SAPHIR DU RHEU (3.00) is a very worthy favourite to land the Hennessy Gold Cup, albeit at fairly restrictive odds in such a cutting edge handicap. Although trading ante-post around 7-2, there is every chance the top weight will be knocked out by bookmakers on the morning of the race and Paul Nicholls has struck a very positive note during pre-race interviews.
Owner Andy Stewart has gone close in the past with Rocky Creek (third), and Big Buck’s unseated his rider at the final fence. Saphir Du Rheu rather lost his way over the bigger obstacles last season but his second to Cole Harden in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle has rekindled his old spirit.
He sauntered home in a three-runner Intermediate Chase at Carlisle on his reappearance and Nicholls will be desperate for a bold showing as Saphir Du Rheu looks the only realistic Cheltenham Gold Cup horse in the yard.
Bobs Worth recaptured his old sparkle over hurdles at Aintree three weeks ago when beating stable mate Simonsig. The Gold Cup winner is 7lbs lower than when winning this race two years ago, so his chance is there for all to see. On the downside, Bobs Worth wouldn’t want the ground to become too testing.
Having backed Smad Place 12 months ago, I’ll be having a saver on Alan King’s grey. King admitted Smad Place probably came into that race slightly undercooked but Smad Place will be fully fit following his Ascot victory over Fingal Bay four weeks ago. He will be hard to kick out of the frame.
Last year’s runner-up Houblon Des Obeaux ran a belter behind Many Clouds carrying 11st 12lb and goes well around Newbury, having also split Coneygree and Unioniste here in December. The more rain the better for Venetia Williams’ dour stayer and he will strip fitter for his Ascot comeback behind Pendra.
Cole Harden and WHISPER (2.25) lock horns again in the bet365 Long Distance Hurdle. My selection beat Cole Harden in the Liverpool Hurdle in April and is slightly favoured at the weights. Furthermore, Cole Harden had a breathing operation during the summer and may just need this outing on heavy ground.
Thistlecrack represents red-hot Colin Tizzard and is improving, but he will need to have come on a bundle to beat Whisper.
MA FILLEULE (1.50) is a strong fancy in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle over an extended 2m 2f trip. Nicky Henderson’s mare split Uxizandre and Don Cossack in last season’s Ryanair Chase and runs off a 25lb lower mark over the smaller obstacles. She has winning form on soft/heavy and will be straighter for a comeback run behind Blue Buttons at Wetherby’s Charlie Hall fixture.
At Newcastle, Wicklow Brave has been supplemented by Willie Mullins for the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle following his splendid effort behind stable mates Nichols Canyon and Faugheen at Punchestown.
Ruby Walsh travels to Tyneside rather than go to Newbury to ride outsider Urano in the Hennessy and it all points to a huge run. However, IRVING (2.05) is also on a roll and he is preferred at the prices.
He bids to repeat last year’s success, arriving here on the back of excellent victories in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton and the Price Rush Hurdle at Haydock last weekend. Soft ground is perfect and although he has been kept busy, rider Nick Scholfield says his mount only does enough and remains fresh as paint.
Young pretender Top Notch ran a cracker in that Haydock race and Henderson’s Triumph Hurdle runner up also brings good form to the table at attractive odds.
The Tizzard/Brendan Powell combination won the At The Races Rehearsal Chase three times with Hey Big Spender and this year they rely on MASTERS HILL (2.40). A doughty stayer, Masters Hill rallied up the Carlisle hill to throw down a determined challenge to narrow victor Salubrious. The handicapper has left his mark untouched and he should be cherry-ripe after a three-week break.
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