Catching Pigeons: Place your bets
Our Catching Pigeons column previews the weekend action and has the inside track from the major training centres.
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'The show must go on' seems to be the mantra for racing at present and heaven, hell and plenty of running rail will be moved to try and give racing every chance to go ahead at Newbury and Warwick on Saturday.
While runners are a little thin on the ground in some of the feature contests this weekend, there's no shortage in the big race, the Betfair Hurdle.
Gibb River is an interesting outsider, who trainer Nicky Henderson believes can run a very big race, as evidenced by the booking of Tony McCoy. Stablemate Rolling Star, on the other hand, has produced some outstanding work at Seven Barrows, but nothing really came to light to explain his latest flop at Ascot and there must be a concern that he simply doesn't appreciate very testing conditions.
Deep Trouble is the apple of his trainer's eye, and should outrun his place in the betting market, while Chris Pea Green is another outsider who won't mind the going conditions at all.
But the vote goes to Cheltenian, who creeps in here on a cracking-looking handicap mark. His trainer Philip Hobbs has done a fine job in keeping expectations down with this horse, who looked a potential worldbeater when taking the Festival Bumper back in 2011, but who has had all manner of problems since.
On more than one occasion, another setback has put connections back to square one just as it looked as if everything was coming together at home. But Hobbs is a patient man and this race has been the plan ever since the handicapper showed his hand with a mark of 134 after his victory at Uttoxeter on New Year's Eve.
If he handles the conditions and the hurly-burly of this contest, Cheltenian might well be thrown in - even in as competitive a contest as this.
Rydon Pynes took two notable scalps when scoring at Exeter on his latest start and he should go well on his return from a three month absence in the Read Nicholls And McCain Handicap Hurdle.
Both Flemenson and Junction Fourteen have stood the form up very well since and if Martin Hill's charge was trained by a more fashionable name, he would probably be a point or two shorter in what is sure to prove a demanding three-miler.
Smad Place could prove the value bet in the IJF 50th Anniversary Novices Chase - and might even be worth a small bet before the race for the RSA Chase.
Alan King's charge has not quite matched the high level of form of Mendip Express or Sam Winner, but he was a class act over hurdles and would have been unbeaten over the larger obstacles but for a silly slip first time up.
Like most of his trainer's horses, he has had time off, but the stable's runners have largely returned in good form and the 3lb he receives from his rivals here could just tip the balance in his favour.
Thomas Brown can come out best in what looks a cracking race for the closing Betfair Commits £40million to British Racing Bumper.
Harry Fry won this race 12 months ago with the smart Oscar Rock and hopes are high this highly talented five year old can follow up for the stable.
Although very disappointing on his racecourse bow at Chepstow, connections were unbowed and fancied him strongly to beat Nicky Henderson's well fancied Maestro Royal 10 weeks ago over this course and distance at the Hennessy meeting.
He saw off his Lambourn rival in style and, after a nice break, looks ready for this even tougher assignment. Fry believes the ground cannot be soft enough for him.
Mischievous Milly, an old friend for Catching Pigeons readers, can take revenge on old rival Glens Melody in the OLBG.com Mares Hurdle at Warwick.
The pair met on this course a month ago and after a great battle, our selection went down by three quarters of a length.
However, Oliver Sherwood reckons Millie will be better suited by this step up in trip and she looked a shade unlucky not to finish much closer. Leighton Aspell could never really get into a good rhythm on her in the early stages and then had to switch to the outside to get a run. She was then hampered on a couple of occasions by the winner and was closing when the line came, although a stewards' inquiry - probably rightly - allowed the placings to remain unchanged.
Balder Succes looks another winner for Alan King in the Star Sports Kingmaker Novices Chase. He won two of his first three starts over fences and was not at his best when the stable were just starting to feel the effects of a virus.He is back in good nick now.
Absolutely So met a real tartar at the weights when easily beaten by when well fancied at Kempton on his latest start, but he is progressing nicely and is fancied to defy a 4lb hike in his rating for that defeat at Lingfield.
Nocturn represents Jeremy Noseda and Frankie Dettori in the same contest and he's fit enough to do himself justice, although trainer and jockey might have a better chance of success with Sloane Avenue in the closing 32Red Maiden Stakes at the end of the card.
This colt has stretched his legs in company with Nocturn and showed more than enough to suggest that he can win an ordinary maiden. He isn't going to be fully wound up yet, but Dettori's not hanging around Lingfield for an hour in order to catch up with his weighing room pals.
With the rain likely to continue next week, the focus could be on the all-weather action early next week.Charlie Hills could be heading to Lingfield on Wednesday with his unraced Passing Star, and hopes are high she can run a big race on what will be her first racecourse appearance in the 32Red.com Maiden.
The booking of Tom Queally takes the eye for Appease in the Coral App Handicap at Wolverhampton on Monday. This horse, now with John Butler - but still in the same ownership - after stints with Dean Ivory and Richard Hannon clearly has ability.
Roger Varian has had a couple of recent additions to Kremlin House in recent weeks with a new baby and a new car from which to admire his team at work. But the distractions haven't prevented his all-weather team in good form and he worked nine horses on the all-weather gallop on Friday morning.
The smart Farraaj was among them and is likely to be aimed at the Winter Derby.