Catching Pigeons: Gold from Rainbow?
Our Catching Pigeons column previews the big races this weekend and offers the latest news from the major training centres.
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After a bit of behind-the-scenes pontification, the Henderson camp alighted upon the Paddy Power Gold Cup as the best chance for Finian's Rainbow this weekend - and Nicky Henderson is full of confidence for a horse who he is particularly fond of.
Remarkably, this will be the Champion Chase winner's firs-ever venture into handicap company, a move prompted by the handicapper's decision - quite correctly - to drop his rating markedly in the wake of the poor form he suffered last season.
The Schloer Chase on Sunday and a big weight reversal with Sire de Grugy from Kempton in April was a very attractive proposition, but in the end the more prestigious prize proved too tempting to resist.
Connections have taken remedial measures to correct a breathing problem during the summer and judged on his homework and schooling, Finians seems right back to his best.
Yes, he will have to be under 11st 12lb here, but at least the ground is going to suit.
Both Rajdhani Expresss and Nadiya de la Vega have their supporters within the yard and they are also expected to run well, but Finian's is the real first-string.
The Roy Blandford 65 Years At Cheltenham Novices' Chase should prove a cracker and perhaps most attention will be focused on the promising African Gold.
However Le Bec will take plenty of beating after his demolition of Bear's Affair in what looked a decent event at Uttoxeter on his fencing debut. He produced a series of impressive leaps before showing a smart turn of foot over an inadequate trip, and will want plenty of beating if reproducing the same quality jumping here.
His stable remain in good form and his trainer has given him plenty of time to recover from the Uttoxeter exertions.
Alan King's yard is another team going well and Godsmejudge could run a big race on his return to action in the Murphy Group Handicap Chase.
He enjoyed a good break after his epic win in the Scottish National on his final start and there seems no reason why he cannot improve further. He has a very good racing weight here and his work has been solid.
Royal Irish Hussar can kick off the meeting on a winning note for Nicky Henderson in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial.
Time will tell if the well-bred son of Galileo can make it to the big race in March, but his jumping improved significantly for more aggressive riding tactics at Wetherby last time. He showed a smart turn of foot to follow up his unimpressive debut win at Market Rasen and the big plus for him here is good ground, something connections now believe is essential.
There's a particularly strong all-weather card at Lingfield and it's interesting to see John Gosden field a couple of good contenders.
Word in Newmarket suggests that Gosden will be keeping a larger-than-usual string going over the winter in search of some of the lucrative new prizes to be offered on the all-weather circuit.
St Leger flop Excess Knowledge was one of those spotted in action in a piece of work on Warren Hull recently - might he be targeted at something this winter?
Also keeping going when he might otherwise have pulled up stumps is Sir Mark Prescott, who worked six in midweek, with a couple of nice-looking types among them.
Another trainer with plenty of darts left to throw is Marco Botti, who can strike with Solar Deity in the Download The Ladbrokes App Handicap.
An experiment on turf earlier in the season confirmed the trainer's suspicions that this horse is a much better prospect on Polytrack.
Two-year-old Naadirr is another to look out for if he lines up at Kempton next week.
On Sunday, Kashmir Peak could prove the value bet in the StanJames.com Greatwood Hurdle.
John Quinn has had this race in mind for some time for the four year old, who developed into a useful juvenile last season and is nicely handicapped with Sametegal on the best of his form.
He ran really well on his warm up for this race on the flat and he will like the ground. Cash And Go is in great heart and is fancied but team Henderson were definitely hoping for softer ground
Alan King is attempting a lucrative family double with Jojabean and his half-brother Raya Star in the opening conditional jockeys' hurdle and the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial.
Raya Star has a clear chance in what looks a slightly disappointing turnout for a valuable novices chase, but arguably the more interesting from a betting point of view is Jojabean. He had his issues last season along with a number of the Barbury Castle team, but he came right on his final start at Fontwell.
He has plenty to prove in this better company, but his trainer reckons there is plenty of improvement to come and he has a nice racing weight.
Venetia Williams opted to miss the big staying handicap at Cheltenham on Saturday in favour of the Southern National at Fontwell for Emperor 's Choice and the move should pay off.
The bang-in-form trainer will has been lured by the prospect of more demanding ground for the progressive six year old, and the quality of opposition is not that strong given the value of the race.