Fresh from 8/1 and 11/2 winners in his last two previews, David Ord has a horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's Betfair Hurdle with a maximum field of 24 declared.
HIGH BRIDGE: Beat Charli Parcs and Poppy Rose when landing Gerry Feilden here last month and only up three pounds. Clearly a potential player despite top weight but fears over the form of the Ben Pauling yard rescinded following a sparkling treble at Southwell on Monday.
JENKINS: Revitalised by application of blinkers and switch to front-running tactics, winning competitive heats at Kempton and Ascot. Always held in high regard but will find it difficult to dominate these from the front and mark creeping up.
BLEU ET ROUGE: In very good hands and caught the eye when travelling strongly for a long way before finishing fourth behind Hunters Call at Ascot. Races from the same mark here and of obvious interest with a stronger gallop likely to suit.
VERDANA BLUE: Third in the Hunters Call race, finishing strongly, and is another who will appreciate better gallop here. Right on his A-game at present and not one to dismiss lightly.
CHARLI PARCS: One of team Henderson but yet to reach the anticipated heights. Failed to go on from promising reappearance when never threatening in the Hunters Call race at Ascot and while it's too early to write him off, others have more convincing profiles.
DIVIN BERE: Very useful juvenile hurdler for the Henderson yard last season but bombed out in – yes – the Hunters Call race on his first start for Paul Nicholls. Clearly better than that but now five pounds higher than when second in the Fred Winter and looks a watching brief at present.
REMILUC: Won in the gloom on Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham and while he had the run of the race, it was taking how he put it to bed turning in. More needed here though despite fondness for Newbury.
MOON RACER: Champion Bumper winner at Cheltenham in 2014 but novice hurdle campaign petered away at the spring festivals after a bright start. Clearly very talented but has one or two questions to answer on his belated reappearance – for all he may be best caught fresh.
MISTERTON: Second in the Greatwood and clearly targeted at this since. Five pounds higher and another to consider in a wide-open race, especially as his tenacity in a finish is always a key asset.
KALASHNIKOV: Lost unbeaten record in Tolworth at Sandown but came out of race with plenty of credit, losing a shoe when beaten four lengths by Summerville Boy. Progressive and looks certain to be suited by the nature of this test. Guess what – another for the shortlist.
PROJECT BLUEBOOK: Big price but capable of outrunning current odds. Travelled strongly for a long way before conditions took their toll in the Greatwood and 141 appeals as workable mark on the pick of his juvenile form. Not much rain forecast at Newbury this week which is in his favour and one of the more interesting outsiders.
KAYF GRACE: Well backed when winning at Kempton in December and looks a mare with plenty of improvement in her. Unexposed, she’s a fascinating runner for the Henderson team.
SPIRITOFTHEGAMES: Progressive and posted career-best effort when chasing home William Henry in the Lanzarote. Five pounds higher here but the bigger worry is the trip with his best form at further than two miles.
LOUGH DERG SPIRIT: Yet another Henderson runner you can’t rule out. Stuck to the task well when second to London Prize in the Elite Hurtle back in November and capable of better but may find it hard to effectively employ his preferred front-running tactics.
POPPY KAY: Third behind High Bridge and Charli Parcs in the Gerry Feilden and this strong-travelling sort could be suited by Saturday’s test. She needs a career best to win it but that’s feasible for all her best form to date is beyond the minimum trip.
LALOR: Very useful bumper performer, winning at Aintree in April. Good start to life over timber despite not getting his head in front yet, and completely unexposed. Could be much better than this initial mark of 137 – but it’s stiff enough on what he’s done so far and he hasn’t been missed in the market.
KNOCKNANUSS: Yard has won this three times and have a real chance of making it four with this fellow. Progressive, he improved to win at Fontwell on Boxing Day and looks ready for this step up in class. Strong traveller, we haven’t seen the best of him yet and everything looks in place for a huge run.
WATERLORD: Connections felt his defeat at Haydock last time was down to one run too many on testing ground. Conditions on Saturday likely to be more in his favour and has the ability to run well from a mark of 135 for in-form yard.
WILLIAM H BONNEY: Only two pounds higher than when winning at Cheltenham last season but has disappointed with his finishing efforts at both Cheltenham and Sandown this term. Plenty of ability but clearly questions to answer.
IRISH ROE: In the form of her life and shook up Maria's Benefit at Doncaster last time. That was her first defeat in three and deserves her place towards the head of the market. Impressed with how strongly she travelled at Town Moor and that cruising speed will stand her in good stead here.
SILVER STREAK: Back to the Hunters Call race at Ascot and here’s the runner-up. He did well to finish second that day having been very keen to halfway in a falsely-run race and has to be a big player again.
NIETZSCHE: Third in the Fred Winter last season but struggling a little this term and no obvious excuses when tenth in the Hunters Call race at Ascot last time. Now five pounds lower than when sixth in the Greatwood but may need a little more help.
COUER BLIMEY: Has ability but tendency to make mistakes is always likely to be costly in this company as it proved in Lanzarote last time.
ZALVADOS: Got his head in front in Ludlow maiden hurdle last time and while he ran well when fourth to Magic Dancer in novice handicap at Cheltenham in November, this looks a big leap for him.
VERDICT: Honestly, where do you start? The Hunters Call race (promise it’s the final mention) at Ascot is clearly a key piece of form and both Silver Streak and Verdana Blue warrant plenty of respect. Bleu Et Rouge was a big eyecatcher that day and could represent Willie Mullins but I’m siding with KNOCKNANUSS. His trainer Gary Moore has a fine record in the Betfair Hurdle and this looks to have been the target for some time with a talented and improving eight-year-old. Poppy Kay is respected but for those looking to play at bigger prices, Project Bluebrook has been running better than form figures suggest and he could hit the frame in a race that will play to his strengths.