Alan Thomson, the former Racing Editor at the Daily Record, puts up five tips at Newbury and Newcastle on Saturday. View selections below.
TRAINER Colin Tizzard has a selection box chock-full of goodies and NATIVE RIVER (3.10) looks a tasty bet in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
Tizzard has already illuminated the dusky early weeks of the NH season by unleashing heavyweights Cue Card and Thistlecrack, plus upwardly mobile Fox Norton, with devastating effect and Native River has all the credentials to continue that hot streak.
The six-year-old, like Cue Card, made his seasonal reappearance at Wetherby, finishing second to Silsol over hurdles. The third horse home that day, Lil Rockerfella, gave classy Yanworth a fright at Ascot last Saturday and that run should have put Native River spot-on for the Hennessy. Runner-up to Minella Rocco in the National Hunt Chase, he holds another fancied second-season chaser, Un Temps Pour Tout, on last year’s form.
Native River gave 7lb and a beating to the David Pipe runner in the novice chase on this corresponding card 12 months ago, and he had Un Temps Pour Tout back in fourth when landing the Mildmay Novices’ Chase Aintree in April.
Henri Parry Morgan chased home Native River on Merseyside and is better off at the weights. On the down side, he hasn’t had a run this year, although trainer Peter Bowen has given him a racecourse blow-out at Ffos Las.
Un Temps Pour Tout whipped Holywell and The Young Master when landing the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham in March, and he arrives here on the back of a hurdles win at Aintree. Although a major threat, he will do well to concede weight to Native River.
It is easy to make a case for Nicky Henderson’s Vyta Du Roc, fifth behind Vicente in the Scottish Grand National on ground that was on the lively side for him. Henderson has scooped this prize in recent years with Trabolgan, Bobs Worth and Triolo D’Alene, and Vyta Du Roc gets in here off a lowly 10st 3lb.
Smad Place jumped his rivals ragged last year and will doubtless attempt to dish out the same medicine under top weight. Alan King’s admirable grey has more on his plate this year but is a reliable type.
RSA Chase winner Blaklion also enters calculations, while the aforementioned Vicente will appreciate the drying ground. Paul Nicholls’ Ayr winner is preferred to gallant Theatre Guide, twice placed in the Hennessy but 10lb higher than last year.
There isn’t a lot of juice left in the price but Native River was still available of odds of 5-1 on the eve of this illustrious, long-established handicap and is the one to beat.
Six talented mares go to post in the opener, with Warren Greatrex’s La Bague Au Roi seeking to make it six wins from seven runs. This confirmed front-runner will serve it up to them but preference is for DUSKY LEGEND (12.20).
Alan King’s six-year-old was most impressive when beating Copper Kay over course and distance and looks capable of conceding 3lb all round. Dusky Legend’s second to Limini at Cheltenham is also standout form.
King saddles GIBRALFARO (2.05) at much tastier odds in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle.
After mopping up his first two UK starts, at Ascot and Kempton, Gibralfaro didn’t quite live up to expectations when elevated in class, most notably when ninth behind Ivanovic Gorbatov in the Triumph Hurdle.
However, he is now 10lb lower than his mark in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton in February, when sent off even-money favourite but running only fourth to Zubayr, and his style of running suggests this step up to 2m 4f is just what is required to rediscover that winning thread.
Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson teamed up to land last year’s running of the bet365 Intermediate Hurdle with Sternrubin and they have a leading chance with OZZIE THE OSCAR (2.40).
The winner of four of his last five outings, Ozzie The Oscar’s winning sequence was broken when chasing home Tizzard’s useful West Approach at Newton Abbot on fast ground. The five-year-old landed the odds subsequently at Wetherby and his credentials are hard to ignore.
Who Dares Wins unseated early at Cheltenham’s Open fixture but had looked on good terms with himself when fourth to Ballyoptic at Chepstow in October.
King has mustered a strong Saturday squad and SCEAU ROYAL (2.55) could make it a red letter day by landing the Stan James.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
This could develop into a head-to-head with the other four-year-old, Apple’s Jade. She holds a verdict over Sceau Royal by virtue of her highly impressive win in the Betfred Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree.
The Gigginstown filly was then trained by Willie Mullins and her first start for Gordon Elliott ended ignominiously when well held by Rashaan, rated 22lb her inferior, at Down Royal.
Another ex-Mullins horse, Petit Moucher, was back in third on his first start for Henry De Bromhead and reopposes here. The stable is on fire and Petit Moucher is bidding to follow-up their success with Identity Thief 12 months ago. There was a significant gamble on the winner and it would come as no surprise to see the money shovelled on again in the light of the yard’s form.
However, Sceau Royal hasn’t put a foot wrong when recording successive victories at Chepstow and Wincanton, and with 2014 winner Irving likely to need his first run of the campaign, Sceau Royal gets the nod.
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