Racing commentator Simon Holt is keen to bag some each-way value ahead of a wide-open Betfair Hurdle, while forecasting a winning return for Barters Hill.
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There won’t be many more difficult handicaps to solve this jumps season than Saturday’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and obtaining value could prove the best plan of attack in the shape of SPIRITOFTHEGAMES who looks overpriced.
Dan Skelton’s six-year-old, the mount of Bridget Andrews, has never raced over two miles but the ability to stay a bit further than the trip is often needed in these big-fielded, highly-charged races, and he is fitted with cheekpieces for the first time, presumably to sharpen him up a little.
On his second to William Henry in the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle at Kempton (2m5f) last month, Spiritofthegames ought to be a good deal shorter in the betting. The winner that day is almost certainly a smart horse and fourth-placed Topofthegame took a decent handicap at Sandown last week while others have run well since.
Moreover, there looks plenty of pace on here with the likes of Jenkins, Misterton, Lough Derg Spirit and Waterlord all normally ridden positively which could play into the hands of a stayer in the closing stages.
Jenkins has to be of interest after two recent victories wearing blinkers having hitherto failed to live up to a tall home reputation. He is another who looks sure to see the race out well after scoring over 2m3f at Ascot last time, and is slightly well in racing off a 3lb lower mark than in future handicaps though rider James Bowen claimed 5lb last time and now takes off just 3lb.
Waterlord has been well backed antepost and also has definite possibilities. Formerly decent on the Flat when scoring on good ground, connections will be hoping the rain stays away even though he has won in deep ground over hurdles.
However, amongst the novices, I prefer Kalashnikov who, despite appearing to hate the testing conditions, never stopped battling when losing his unbeaten record to Summerville Boy at Sandown last time.
A wide-margin winner at Wetherby and Doncaster previously, there is every possibility that a mark of 141 underestimates his ability, especially as the handicapper judged him to have put up a career-best last time despite the ground being unsuitable. And trainer Amy Murphy has her Newmarket-based string in fine form.
Besides Jenkins, Nicky Henderson also runs Verdana Blue, Charli Parcs and Kayf Grace and it could be significant that stable jockey Nico de Boinville has chosen to ride the latter, a ready winner at Kempton from Eddiemaurice (well beaten next time) and Azzerti (successful at Huntingdon on Thursday).
Meanwhile, the best handicapped runner is Irish Roe who will go up 11lb in the future following her second to Maria’s Benefit in a Grade Two mares' hurdle at Doncaster last weekend. Henry Brooke’s mount looks sure to go well providing what looked to be a dogged tussle hasn’t left its mark.
Earlier, BARTERS HILL is fancied to make a winning comeback from injury in the Betfair Cash Out Handicap Hurdle.
The highly-talented eight-year-old was unbeaten in four bumpers and three novice hurdles before finishing fourth to Unowhatimeanharry at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival and has been absent since injuring himself on his chase debut in November of that year.
Trainer Ben Pauling, whose team have been in very good form recently following a mid-season lapse, is sure to have Barters Hill pretty straight considering he has been well entered up in recent weeks and this big, flat course over which he beat Politologue in the 2015 Challow Hurdle should be ideal.
If anywhere near his best, the race could be at the mercy of a horse whose past scalps include Buveur D’Air, Altior, Bellshill and North Hill Harvey, and Barters Hill has been dropped 8lb by the handicapper since his Festival defeat when he possibly paid the price for fighting a front-running war with Champers On Ice.