Newbury's Coral Gold Cup meeting kicks off on Friday and Matt Brocklebank has a couple of fancies on the card.
1pt win Hugos New Horse in 3.00 Newbury at 33/1 (General)
1pt win Ed Keeper in 3.35 Newbury at 6/1 (bet365), 5/1 (Coral)
Horses like Paisley Park are precisely why jumps fans come back for more each year and it’s great to see Emma Lavelle’s stable star having a fifth crack at the Coral Long Distance Hurdle on Friday.
The old boy memorably won the race from Thistlecrack in 2019 and has been second, third and second again last year in the three subsequent seasons, although it’s probably asking a lot for him to raise the Newbury roof again, providing day one of the Coral Gold Cup meeting goes ahead as planned.
I’m always on the lookout for the next potential star in this division but clearly can’t be alone in that regard as Marie’s Rock, who was runner-up to Stayers’ Hurdle winner Sire Du Berlais on her first try at three miles in the Liverpool Hurdle when last seen in April, was installed as the short-priced favourite soon after final declarations.
She’s remained very solid despite having to carry the 6lb penalty for her Grade 2 win at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, while Paisley Park has the same burden for his defeat of Goshen in the rearranged Long Walk at Kempton on Boxing Day last year.
Sticking with the ‘next cab off the rank’ notion, I’m surprised to see Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old HUGOS NEW HORSE such a massive price in this field.
Admittedly, he’s got around 20lb to find just to be competitive here and lines up on the back of what on the face of it appears a disappointing effort in the Pertemps Qualifier at Cheltenham in October, but is anyone really convinced we’ve seen the best of this horse, who won five of his seven starts over hurdles last year?
I’m certainly not and it looks highly significant that not only has Nicholls opted against an immediate switch to novice chasing, but he’s also just this week entered Hugos New Horse for the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on December 23. He is one of three Nicholls could run at Ascot, along with Red Risk and Blueking D’Oroux, who are now rated 147 and 148 respectively, so it’s clear the trainer is on the lookout for a youngster or two who could put their hand up and be counted in the staying hurdle department.
Blueking D’Oroux was rated just 138 when really making a name for himself after being pitched into last Saturday’s Coral Hurdle against some grizzled old campaigners in Goshen (154) and Sceau Royal (150), and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Hugos New Horse massively outrun his odds here.
Whether he’s up to this level yet is debatable but none of them exactly strike much fear into me if taking a flier at such long odds, and I’m more than happy to scrap the comeback run which was fully expected to be needed, if you’d read what the trainer was saying going into the Showcase meeting.
On the day he raced far too keenly for Harry Cobden, who stuck to the wide outside despite the inner seemingly offering the better racing surface that week, and a blunder at the eighth hurdle looked to take out what remaining fizz the horse had left in him at that point.
Understandably not knocked about, it’s easy to excuse the finishing position which looks pretty dire on paper, and I’d expect him to be miles sharper this time, with the potential for the selection and Dashel Drasher to get their own way out in front too.
Unlike that one, who clearly loves the mud, Hugos New Horse has won on good to firm ground as well as heavy so he probably won’t mind what promises to be a lively enough surface when/if the frost sheets eventually come up.
Hyland, who kept to the inside en route to winning the aforementioned Pertemps Qualifier at Cheltenham, is among the favourites for the concluding Play Coral ‘Racing-Super-Series’ For Free Handicap Hurdle but I’ll take them on with the Sam Thomas-trained ED KEEPER.
He went down fighting when trying to concede 23lb to Rebel Intentions over two miles and three furlongs at Ascot and the winner has since run well when a close third to handicap blot Scamallach Liath off 7lb higher back at the same venue last Friday. Rebel Intentions has been put up another 2lb for that run in third so Ed Keeper’s 6lb rise for the three-quarter-length comeback defeat doesn’t look harsh at all.
Prominent from the start at Ascot, Ed Keeper didn’t seem to fully wake up until jumping the second-last flight of hurdles and, although untried over this far, he’ll no doubt improve considerably for the step up to three miles as he was running well in defeat over two and a half in maiden hurdles last winter.
The runner-up effort at Chepstow on January 8, when splitting Atlanta Brave and Inch House, reads particularly well as that race threw up five subsequent winners and I like the fact Thomas has decided to pitch him in here under a relatively light weight rather than just look to mop up a 0-125 somewhere.
It looks a bit of a statement of intent to me with a horse open to stacks more improvement, especially in the tongue-tie as he’d never worn one before the reappearance run earlier in the month. I’d give him a serious chance of winning this, with the likes of Hoe Joly Smoke, Regal Blue and Rambo T others not yet certain to see out the distance.
Earlier on in the Coral Racing Club Handicap Chase, the fascinating one is Goose Man.
Former trainer Tom Taaffe had some lofty ambitions for this horse a few years ago, running him in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas in 2018 (fell at the first) and then nominating the Grand National as a long-term goal when winning at Down Royal in the spring of ’21.
Goose Man must have picked up an injury as he subsequently spent well over two years on the sidelines but his owners have stayed loyal and their patience was rewarded to some degree when he made a winning return to the track, on debut for new trainer Jamie Snowden, in a selling handicap hurdle at Huntingdon on November 14.
That was a nothing sort of race but the now 11-year-old Goose Man looked full of himself jumping away out in front and making most of the running to win by 11 lengths. It’s anyone’s guess how well he’s taken that first run back but the fact he’s out again just over a fortnight later bodes well and he’s been left on a mark of 130 now switching back to chasing.
He won three times from nine starts over fences in his youth and moving back up from two miles clearly won’t be an issue. The issue I do have, however, is that he was initially being underestimated in the market around 25/1 but that’s crumbling towards single figures with a couple of firms at the time of publication so I’m happy to park the idea and just see how he goes without any financial interest in the race.
Tightenourbelts was the other bet I was considering in the Grade 2 Coral John Francome Novices' Chase following his striking win first time out over fences at Ludlow. I was hoping for a bit bigger than 10/1 about him though and my mind was effectively made up for me when that started to become 7s and 8s in places through Thursday afternoon.
Published at 1600 BST on 30/11/23
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