David Ord has a horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury with an unexposed mare topping his shortlist.
SAGLAWY: Grade Two winner as a juvenile at Fairyhouse and proved he’s suited to this big field handicap scenario when third in a valuable heat at the same course in December. Has to be respected for top connections but no easy task under top weight.
BALLYANDY: Won this back in 2017 and having failed to convince with his fencing during a chase career, has been switched back to timber for his last two starts. Back to form – and winning ways – with a commanding performance at Uttoxeter last time and can’t be ruled out for all he’s significantly up in grade from a five-pounds higher mark.
CH’TIBELLO: Useful at his best and close to it when second at Aintree on his reappearance. Back up three pounds off the back of that effort (over two-and-a-half miles) and more of a known quantity than most of these.
LISP: Long appealed as the sort to thrive in races such as this and proved the point when chasing home Mohaayed at Ascot last month. Now eight pounds higher than at the start of the season but still has untapped potential and one for the shortlist.
LEONCAVALLO: Ran well when third in the Galway Hurdle following a summer success at Ludlow and still looks feasibly treated but his best form is on good ground and the weather forecast for the week tempers enthusiasm.
GETAWAY TRUMP: Big player and progressing with every run. Travelled strongly for a long way when second to Champ in the Challow and the drop back to a strongly-run two miles looks sure to suit. Was impressive on soft ground at Exeter in December and hard to knock.
MONT DES AVALOIRS: Stablemate of Getaway Trump and weighted to finish in front of Lisp on their running in the Gerry Feilden here in November. Had too much use made of him when sent-off favourite for the Betfair Exchange Trophy last time – just about the one disappointment of his career – and capable of going well at a big price if back firing on all cylinders.
AL DANCER: Three from three this season and put away for this after thumping his rivals at Cheltenham in December. Clearly a threat to all but 12 pounds higher in a better race here and the price has gone.
BLU CAVALIER: Turned over at 2/11 in a seller at Fakenham on New Year’s Day which doesn’t immediately scream Betfair Hurdle winner.
DIDTHEYLEAVEUOUTTO: Not at his best in the race won by Mister Fisher at Kempton on Boxing Day but form of his previous win at Ascot is working out well. Can be forgiven that blip but another who would need the forecast to be wrong and the rain clouds to miss Newbury this week.
SUSSEX RANGER: Cut little ice in decent heats here and at Ascot this term but back to winning ways when his sights were lowered at Fontwell last time. Yard very much respected in this race and could easily out-run current big odds with confidence restored.
DISTINGO: Stablemate of Sussex Ranger and bit to prove after disappointing at Kempton on last start over hurdles (made little impact switched to Flat at the same track subsequently). In excellent hands but that’s the main positive.
ZANZA: Made it two from three over timber with battling win at Taunton last time and there’s more to come from him but this is much warmer and a starting mark of 135 seems stiff enough.
COUNTISTER: A dual Grade Two winner in her native France, she won at Doncaster and Sandown last term and signed off with fifth place finish behind Laurina at Cheltenham. Went powerfully through the race there only to weaken up the hill. Unexposed and clearly capable of better, she looks her powerful owner’s number one hope given the forecast rain. Fascinating contender for top team.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS: Did well to finish third to Jetez having been left with a lot to do at Leopardstown last time and represents Gordon Elliott. Races from career high mark and the possibility of testing ground is of equal concern.
NORDIC COMBINED: Ran well two starts ago when chasing home the promising Rathhill here but turned over subsequently when sent off odds-on at Ffos Las. He went lazily through the race there and no surprise if his shrewd team reach for headgear here. Still unexposed over timber having hit a peak rating of 81 on the level.
WILLIAM H BONNEY: Had his sights lowered at Hereford in November and duly took advantage before following up at Huntingdon. Stayed on strongly there to get the better of Great Hall but now only a pound lower than when eighth in this last season and only 11th when a leading fancy for the 2017 renewal.
MONSIEUR LECOQ: One for whom the forecast is very much a positive and a horse on a roll. Soon in command when thumping Our Merlin by nine lengths at Sandown on latest start and even a ten-pound ratings hike might not stop him.
SPLASH OF GINGE: Hard to predict but is a former winner of this race, taking the 2014 renewal at odds of 33/1. Will fill a similar place in the market this time too but there’s no recent evidence to suggest he’s about to become a dual winner.
AR MEST: A third runner for the Moore team and on a hat-trick after justifying favouritism at Leicester and here. He’s right at the top of his game and at the foot of the handicap so could easily out-run odds of 33/1 – but a tendency to make mistakes is a worry.
WEST TO THE BRIDGE: Winner at Aintree in December but beaten under a penalty at Fontwell next time. Too keen there so the pace scenario will help but looks up against it for all he’s in good hands.
MAGIC DANCER: In-and-out this season but was back on-song when splitting a pair of useful sorts at Kempton last time. Responded to a switch to more forceful tactics there but is in much deeper this time around.
NELSON’S TOUCH: Well below best up in trip at Cheltenham last time but had run well previously at Sandown in deep ground. Needs to bounce back.
VERDICT: Hard to argue with Al Dancer, Getaway Trump and Monsieur Lecoq heading the market and all three have obvious claims but a chance is taken on COUNTISTER who is completely unexposed and shaped well for a long way behind Laurina at Cheltenham when last seen.
She’s capable of going well for a yard who have a good record in this while MONT DES AVALOIRS also appeals as being overpriced. Too much use was made of him at Ascot last time but he hadn’t put a foot wrong before that and is feasibly handicapped. Of those at bigger prices, Sussex Ranger is of most interest.