Former Talksport man Charlie McCann marks your card with six to follow on Saturday at Newbury, Warwick and Lingfield. View selections below
Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle is one of the biggest betting races of the year and this 22-runner handicap is as trick a puzzle to solve as ever. BetVictor are paying ¼ odds five places on the race and the obvious starting point is Irish raider Blazer the 10/3 favourite who was an impressive winner of a Leopardstown handicap for Willie Mullins last weekend and he looks very well handicapped carrying just a 5lbs penalty for that fluent success.
The said 10/3 is plenty skinny enough in such a competitive event and my two against the field are Modus and War Sound (both 7/1 at BetVictor). Modus finished runner up in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham back in March and has won two of his three starts over timber including over C&D back in November. Nick Schofield takes the mount for Paul Nicholls last successful in this race back in 2012 with Zarkandar.
War Sound (3.35) has not seen the track since winning the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock back in May but is reported to be working well and holds an entry in next month’s Champion Hurdle. Leading conditional Ciaran Gethings takes off a valuable 5lbs and stablemate Sternrubin and the progressive Agrapart are likely to ensure the race is run a truly run affair. War Sound has long been my antepost fancy and there seems no reason to desert him now despite his 280 day lay-off.
Rocky Creek (2.25) was hampered in the Becher Chase at Aintree when last seen in December and is taken to return to winning ways in the Denman Chase for Nicholls. I’m not convinced this is the strongest of renewals of this Grade 2 contest won in the past decade by outstanding chasers such as Coneygree (2015), Silviniaco Conti (2013), Long Run (2012), Denman himself (2008) and the great Kauto Star back in 2007. At 13/8 with BetVictor he is taken to justify favouritism.
The Champion Chaser Dodging Bullets improved out of all recognition last year and has won first time out in the past, but at 4/7 he might be vulnerable giving weight away in the Game Spirit. Top Gamble (3.00) gets the vote dropping back in trip for the excellent Kerry Lee in receipt of 5lbs from the odds on favourite; the selection is likely to make it a decent test and if the Champion chaser is not cherry-ripe for his seasonal reappearance I think Top Gamble can cause a shock.
The ground is sure to be testing at Warwick and Willie Mullins saddles Open Eagle in the opener but he must give 6lbs to Mystical Knight (1.00) and the latter, so impressive when landing a Bumper here on his British debut over Xmas gets the vote. The son of Kayf Tara has reportedly schooled well and has been bought privately by JP McManus since his Bumper success. The one concern is the form of the Rebecca Curtis yard and this is a big day for the stable with the Festival on the horizon.
Jennies Jewel (2.05) belied her 33/1 odds when runner up to the impressive Vroum Vroum Mag over 3m at Ascot last time and she is taken go one better in the OLBG Mares’ listed Hurdle. Willie Mullins saddles likely favourite Petite Parisienne but fits the mare in a first time hood this afternoon. She has never won beyond the minimum trip and her fellow Irish raider gets the vote.
At Lingfield Truth Or Dare (3.45) finished just behind Muthawathea when the pair filled the places over C&D last month; the selection was returning from a long break, is 1lb better off, has a more favourable draw and is taken to reverse the form.