Alex Hammond: Happy Harry
There is a superb weekend of jump racing to look forward to, but after the very wet weather and then frosty conditions the ground will be a challenge.
- Related Content
Newbury's Hennessy meeting got underway on Thursday on ground not as bad as first feared. The Hennessy is usually a great race, but I don't think it's top class this time round.
Nicky Henderson has been umming and ahhing about running his two entries Bobs Worth and Roberto Goldback due to the ground but he gave them the go ahead in the week and will be pleased to see the drying conditions. It could be quite sticky though after overnight frosts.
So, Bobs Worth is favourite at 4/1 with Sky Bet. He is the obvious one here after ending last season with a win in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham. He faces 18 rivals including stablemate Roberto Goldback who has each-way claims and is a 20/1 shot.
He was the comfortable winner of the United House Gold Cup at Ascot on his latest start and the drying ground is in his favour. All rounds lead to the Grand National for him and his solid jumping stand him in good stead round here. He is 12lbs higher in the handicap for that win, but excellent conditional Jeremiah McGrath takes 5lbs off his back.
Alan King's Hold On Julio is 7/1 second favourite. There could be more to come from this four time point to point winner as he has only had seven starts under rules and has won three of his five starts over fences. He was staying on with good effect at Cheltenham on his reappearance in October and he should have a successful campaign this term.
The enigmatic Tidal Bay is an interesting runner. he has loads of class and showed he retains plenty of ability at the age of 11 when winning a decent race over hurdles at Wetherby on his reappearance. He has top weight in this 3 1/4 mile handicap which won't make life easy.
The Package (8/1) has been raised 8lbs for hsi win in the Badges Ales Chase last time out and he is another horse with the Grand National as his long term target.
There is a decent challenge from Ireland headed by First Leuitenant who is a 10/1 shot for Mouse Morris. He put in a great effort to finish 2nd to Kauto Stone in the Grade 1 JNWine.com Chase Chase last time out.
The cheeckpieces seem to help him. He was 2nd to Bobs Worth in the RSA. Dessie Hughes runs Magnanimity (14/1) and Irish Grand National winner Lion Na Bearnai (25/1) has his first start since that win in the spring. Magnanimity only has 10.3 to carry and Hughes has also booked a 5lb claimer to take more weight off his back. So he has no weight and ran well to be a distant second to Sizing Europe in the Clonmel Oil Chase last time out, but he is yet to win over this sort of trip which is a slight concern. There could be more to come from him though.
AP McCoy has come in for the ride on Rebecca Curtis' Teaforthree as his intended mount in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, Darlan, doesn't run. He spoke about his chances having ridden at Newbury on Thursday and is concerned about the drying ground. the Welsh National is the main target for the horse.
My tip in the race is Harry the Viking each way, he's 25/1. This horse was well fancied for a 3 1/2 mile Handicap Chase at Cheltenham last time out but a serious blunder which almost unshipped Ruby Walsh put paid to his chances. You have to forgive him that and Nicholls' has fitted cheekpieces. He only has 10.2 and I'm prepared to give him another chance. Ruby has opted to ride Tidal Bay, but I hope this horse can run into a place and I hope my faith isn't misguided.
Big Bucks ran in the Hennessy in 2008 unseating his rider which turned out to be a blessing as it prompted connections to revert to hurdles. That then kicked off an unbeaten spell which has now stretched to 17 races. He begins his season in familiar fashion in the Long Distance Hurdle which is a race he has won for the past 3 years. It will be a huge shock if he's turned over here and he won't be much of a price.
My advice is to back him for the World Hurdle for which he is Even money favourite with Sky Bet and I think that could turn out to be value. He is bound to be beaten at some stage, but I can't see anything to threaten him at the moment.
Newcastle have had an enormous amount of rain and now face the additional problem of frost which is putting their meeting in jeopardy. They inspect at 8am in the morning and need the forecast to be kind on Friday night.
Their feature, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, has already been hit with significant withdrawals as Darlan and Rock on Ruby won't line up due to the testing ground. That leaves Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Cinders and Ashes as Sky Bet's 4/6 favourite and it will be a great opportunity for Donald McCain's horse on his seasonal reappearance.
Triumph Hurdle winner Countrywide Flame is 4/1 second favourite for John Quinn. he has been running on the flat and was second in the Cezarewitch on his last start.
Supreme Novices' 3rd Triofolium is 9/2 for Ireland trainer Charles Byrnes, he has had the benefit of a run this season. Another horse who comes here race fit is 9/1 outsider Bothy, who was supplemented for the race by trainer Brian Ellison and will pick up some decent place money. He won't mind the ground, but then again neither will the favourite and if the meeting goes ahead he will take all the beating but Countrywide Flame is a big danger and at the prices it may be worth taking the McCain horse on.
The runners in the 3 mile Rehearsal Chase will need stamina aplenty. Junior runs here as opposed to taking up his engagement in the Hennessy and he is one of just 5 runners in the race. This will be his first run since pulling up in the Scottish National in April where he reported had a breathing problem, which I'm sure will have been sorted out during the summer.
Keith and James Reveley team up with Benny be Good. The horse has been raised 2lbs for a course and distance win on his reappearance last time out but he made the odd jumping error there which makes him vulnerable. If the meeting goes ahead I'll be with the Somerset raider, Junior.
There are three Grade 1 races at Fairyhouse on Sunday where again the ground will be testing. The first of them is the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle where Champagne Fever is favourite for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. This is a horse with an impeccable record in bumpers, with one of his three wins coming in Cheltenham's Champion Bumper.
He has made the perfect start to his hurdles career too with a very easy win in a Maiden Hurdle at Cork. His only defeat came on his rules debut and he also has a point to point win to his name.
Jezki is next best for Jessie Harrington and Barry Geraghty. He has had the two starts over hurdles and bagged a Grade 3 at Naas last time out. He wasn't as good as the Mullins horse in bumpers and finished behind him at Cheltenham, but is related to some smart hurdle winners and looks decent himself.
Minsk is another leading contender for Dessie Hughes. This horse is a recruit from the flat where he was rated over 100 and won the Irish Cezarewitch off 93. He was considered a Triumph Hurdle candidate in the early part of the year, but didn't run after his hurdle debut in February and then had a couple of runs in Listed races on the flat before returning to obstacles in a Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown which he won comfortably.
Hopefully he can go on from there, but this is red hot. It's tough to take on the Mullins yard at any time, but his horses are in storming form at the moment and I'm with Champagne Fever.
The Drinmore Novice Chase is the next and Mullins and Walsh have another great chance with Arvika Ligeonniere. He won on his chase debut in May after a delayed switch to chasing after suffering physical problems. He is a huge horse though and a very exciting prospect in the novice division.
Dedigout is another with a record that reads 1/1 over fences. He runs for Tony Martin and Davy Russell and is another fine chasing type. He is a Grade 1 winner over hurdles and will have no problems with conditions.
Buckers Bridge is unbeaten in four starts, winning a point, two bumpers and then going straight over fences and winning a Beginners' Chase at Punchestown in October. He is held in high regard by trainer Henry de Bromhead, but this is a big step up. It's another exciting race and looks between the top two in the market. I'm going to go with the Mullins runner Arvika Ligeonniere to give the stable a second Grade 1 on the card.
The Hatton's Grace Hurdle looks a real cracker too with Voler la Vedette the likely favourite. Again a small field, but it's all quality, with five going to post. Voler la Vedette suffered a reverse of form when beaten by Whatuthink when hot favourite for a Grade 2 Hurdle last time out.
She was beaten by a race fit rival there though and all being well that will have put her right for Sunday's race. Mullins runs Zaidpour and So Young with the former looking the pick with Ruby Walsh on board. Monksland is another with a chance for Noel Meade and Paul Carberry. I'm going with Voler la Vedette to win this race for the second successive year with her 7lb mares allowance and the benefit of that run under her belt.
Harry the Viking in the Hennessy @ 25/1 with Sky Bet (each way)
Big Bucks in the World Hurdle @ Evs with Sky Bet
Countrywide Flame in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle @ 4/1 with Sky Bet
Junior in the Rehearsal Chase
Champagne Fever in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle
Arvika Ligeonniere in the Drinmore Novice Chase
Voler la Vedette in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle