Former Talksport man Charlie McCann marks your card with six to follow on Saturday at Newbury and Newcastle. View selections below
The 60th and final running of the Hennessy Gold Cup is the feature event on a wonderful card from Newbury this afternoon which starts with a mares’ listed novices hurdle over the minimum trip.
La Bague Au Roi is likely to be all the rage in receipt of 3lbs from Dusky Legend (12.20) but I just favour the Alan King-trained mare who finished runner up to the exciting Limini at the Cheltenham Festival when a maiden and whose yard is targeting the same event in the spring.
The mare must have decent ground and with no rain forecast the hope is that she will get away with underfoot conditions which are described, at the time of writing, as soft good to soft in places but with no rain forecast. Dusky Legend is still eligible for the same Cheltenham race she finished runner up in back in Match and is currently 8/1 to go one better.
The brilliant Thistlecrack cannot be opposed in the Grade 2 Novices’ Chase as he gains more chasing experience on the road to Cheltenham. Connections are still favouring a crack at the Gold Cup and he is the 7/2 market leader at BetVictor for the Blue Riband of jumps racing. Stablemate Cue Card (6/1) set a very high standard at Haydock last weekend and Colin Tizzard is blessed to have two such great horses in his care.
The 2m 6f Chase is a cracker with a long looking shortlist of Final Assault, the wonderfully named Tjongejonge and Generous Ransom (1.30) with the latter getting the nod despite a poor reappearance over 2m 4f here on ground, arguably, a shade faster than ideal. The handicapper has dropped him another couple of pounds and Philip Hobbs fits him with a tongue-tie for the first time.
The 2m 4f handicap hurdle is another hot race with Born Survivor and Onefitzall much respected but Battle Born (2.05) has won three of his five career starts under rules and he could be very well handicapped off his current mark for Charlie Longsdon.
Yes, the horse has been off the course for over two years but that is likely to be factored into his price and the selection has won after a break in the past.
The Hennessy has long been one of my favourite races of the year but having nibbled at Drumacoo earlier in the week I was dismayed when trainer Ben Pauling pulled the horse out at the 48-hour declaration stage.
Saphir Du Rheu (3.10) is 10lbs lower than when fifth in this corresponding race 12 months ago and must go close with jockey’s describing the ground as no worse than good to soft after the opener won by Jenkins yesterday. Paul Nicholls has always felt the horse was top class and if that is the case he really ought to be competitive from his current mark. The selection is 8/1 at BetVictor and can reward each way support in a race where there are any number of dangers notably last season’s Grade 1 winning novice chasers Blaklion and Native River.
In the finale and the performance of Double W’s in the 2m handicap chase on Friday gave further evidence that it is hard for northern raiders in handicaps down south but I hope Lucinda Russell’s Imjoeking (3.45) can buck the trend. The selection has been raised 6lbs for winning at Kelso last time and the fourth and fifth have run very well subsequently.
The Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle is the Grade 1 event and whilst there is no Irish raider in the Hennessy half the 6-runner field in the Gosforth Park feature come from across the Irish Sea.
I have been very impressed by Sceau Royal so far this season especially at Wincanton last time when he briefly looked in trouble before coming home 9l clear of his field. This is a better race, however, and as long as the ground is soft then Gordon Elliot’s Apples Jade (2.55) can take advantage of her 7lbs mares allowance despite the fact that Bryan Cooper favours the other Gigginstown runner Petit Mouchoir. The selection is 5/2 at BetVictor and she is entitled to come on for her recent seasonal reappearance.
The Rehearsal Chase is a belter and marginal preference is for Definitly Red (3.30) who won at Carlisle over timber on his reappearance and has conditions to suit as he reverts to the larger obstacles; the selection is 10/3 at BetVictor and gets the vote in a hot renewal of this famous contest.
Willoughby Court was given a poor ride as he chased down Get On The Yager (1.45) at Market Rasen but the winner is smart and he can follow up in the French Furze one of the great norther hurdlers of the last 20 years and who won the Fighting Fifth himself back in 2003.