Junior can teach juniors a lesson
Man On The Spot previews all Saturday's terrestrial action from Newbury and Newcastle.
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BIG BUCK'S is hardly an original selection but the nine-year-old is simply impossible to oppose as he bids to extend an unbeaten run that stretches back 17 races and almost four years. Five Dream has had a rear view of his stable companion on numerous occasions while Fox Appeal is taking a huge step up in class after winning a Kempton handicap, though does have a bit of scope. Reve De Sivola is a dual Grade 1 winner over hurdles but it's almost a year since he was last on the racecourse and is better known as a chaser nowadays. How he will cope with a switch back to the smaller obstacles after a lay-off is anybody's guess.
A small but select field, though not the turnout the racecourse would have hoped for. Bothy is a tremendously consistent handicapper who has been supplemented but will need to find a bit extra in this grade. No four-year-old has been successful in the past 10 years but there have been few of that age as tough and talented as Countrywide Flame. John Quinn's Triumph Hurdle winner just failed in his bid to add the Cesarewitch to his ever-growing tally and wasn't concerned by the heavy ground when runner-up to Hollow Tree in Chepstow's Finale Hurdle in December. Donald McCain has won this for the past two years with Peddlers Cross and Overturn. He is represented here by rising star CINDERS AND ASHES, who can complete a hat-trick for the yard. The Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner progressed at a rate of knots last season and his previous two victories before Cheltenham were gained on very heavy ground. He had Trifolium just under two lengths behind in the Supreme so there shouldn't be much between them on that evidence but the Irish raider ran a shocker on his reappearance at Punchestown and potential punters will need to forgive that.
Princely Player, beaten less than a length in a Listed hurdle over a shorter trip at Kempton after winning at Exeter, is one for the shortlist here as is Salubrious, who was a solid fourth in a Grade 3 handicap at Chepstow on his reappearance. At Fishers Cross landed the odds at Ffos Las last month and is unexposed while Scots Gaelic was in good form on the Flat in Ireland before joining Tim Vaughan and looks a better bet than new stablemate Hunting Tower. ARDLUI is another who has been running well on the level and he won a 2m handicap on soft ground at Newmarket last month. The four-year-old also won over hurdles here a year ago and is probably still on a decent mark so gets the nod. Star Of Angels is capable on his day but lacks a recent run.
Now that Nicky Henderson has given him the green light, BOBS WORTH can show himself to be a potentially top-class staying chaser by landing this big prize. The fact that he was good enough to beat the classy Cue Card on his first appearance last season suggests fitness won't be a problem and he got better the further he went when beating First Lieutenant by more than two lengths in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March, suggesting the extra quarter-mile here won't be a problem. He will be plenty short enough in the betting considering his lack of experience but still looks a worthy favourite. This is a race for up-and-coming chasers so the enigmatic Tidal Bay, Ascot winner Roberto Goldback and Irish National winner Lion Na Bearnai are all worth opposing but Hold On Julio has place prospects after a pipe-opener at Cheltenham and makes more appeal the Wincanton scorer The Package. Frisco Depot has attracted ante-post support and is well weighted but so is Harry The Viking, though it's a bit off-putting that he's been pulled up in his last two starts. Saint Are may be best of the rest as previous winner Diamond Harry and Carruthers are badly out of sorts and have been for a while.
JUNIOR's presence means the bottom three are out of the handicap, though all are ridden by claimers and have a recent run under their belt unlike David Pipe's 2011 Kim Muir winner who will no doubt have another crack at the Grand National in the spring. He's won following a break in the past and had today's main rival Benny Be Good a long way behind when beaten a short-head by Ikorodu Road in the Grimthorpe at Doncaster in March, though the latter arrives on the back of a cracking victory under a big weight over the C&D. The remaining trio will need to step up a gear but Rich Lord can do so and will be particularly at home in the testing conditions.