1.50 Newbury - Friday
Horse Racing analyst Will Smith has had a good look at all this weekend's ante-post markets, and provides a 7/1 EW selection in the Grade 2 novices' chase at Newbury on Friday.
Tuesday saw the latest round of early entries for the Cheltenham Festival with the four Grade 1 novice hurdle entries released.
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the traditional Festival curtain raiser with 67 entered in the race this time around headed by ante-post favourite Facile Vega (10/11).
Willie Mullins’ charge impressed in taking the Champion Bumper at the big meeting 12 months ago and the unbeaten gelding is likely to head to the big race unbeaten given he is currently odds-on for the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival in just over a weeks time.
While Facile Vega is odds-on for the two mile opener he also holds an entry in the longer Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
Out of the top class mare Quevega the gelding isn’t the only relative of the great horse engaged in the race with Gary Moore’s Givega, a daughter of Quevega’s sister Sivega also entered.
Givega disappointed when pulled up in a Grade 2 over 2m5f at Warwick earlier this month and while that performance was too bad to be true he is currently backable at 66/1 for the big race.
Big spending owner Barry Connell has started training his own horses in recent times with French Navy gelding Marine Nationale (5/1) unbeaten in four starts for the handler.
The six-year-old battled to a head defeat over Irish Point (also engaged here and backable at a best price of 20/1) in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle over two miles at Fairyhouse early last month.
Marine Nationale handles good and soft going and looks a real threat at this stage.
It’s 14/1 bar the two when looking at the best prices available about the other 65 runners and while last years Fred Winter runner-up Gaelic Warrior (20/1) and Impair Et Passe (20/1), are both included in that bracket the betting suggests the pair are more likely to head to the Ballymore on the Wednesday of Cheltenham.
The Ballymore itself has attracted a field of 98 with Hermes Allen (11/4), a winning point-to-pointer in Ireland in late 2021 the current 5/2 favourite having completed a hat-trick when winning by four-and-three-quarter-lengths in the Grade 1 Challow Novices Hurdle over two-miles-four-and-a-half-furlongs at Newbury at the end of December.
Winners of the Challow during the 21st century include the likes of Denman, Champ, Thyme Hill and Bravemansgame with Paul Nicholls’ charge looking the UK’s best hope of a top level novice hurdle success at the meeting currently.
There’s been market support in recent days for another Connell inmate Good Land (14/1) who impressed when winning by eight lengths in a 2m4f maiden hurdle at Leopardstown at the end of December.
A comfortable winner on that occasion the easy success of fourth home Embassy Gardens (25/1) here but likely to run elsewhere at the meeting) at Thurles at the weekend boosted the form and the seven-year-old Good Land looks likely to get his chance at Graded level in a Grade 1 2m6f event at Leopardstown in early February.
The Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle over 2m4f was the most recent Grade 1 novice hurdle to take place in Ireland with the one-two that day, Champ Kiely (8/1) for Willie Mullins and Irish Point (25/1) for Gordon Elliott both holding an entry in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle. Grangeclare West (33/1), a stablemate of the winner disappointed when favourite for that Naas contest and the son of Presenting is another engaged here.
The presence of a mares novice event at the meeting means there are just the two mares engaged in the Ballymore with Kateira (66/1), unbeaten in two starts over hurdles for Dan Skelton and You Wear It Well (66/1) runner-up in the Challow Hurdle mentioned previously both engaged.
Long-time favourite for the race Lossiemouth (11/8) is among those entered at this stage and while there are a number of horses unraced over jumps engaged the head of the market, as one would expect is dominated by those with form in Graded company.
Lossiemouth, winner of her sole start for Yannick Fouin in France is one of a number of fillies entered here and has won both starts since joining the Willie Mullins yard.
Entered at the Dublin Racing Festival early next month she impressed in seeing off stablemate and fellow Triumph Hurdle entrant Gala Marceau (10/1) in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown in December.
Fellow Willie Mullins-inmate Blood Destiny (9/2) has won both starts since finishing runner-up at Auteuil on debut last April.
Untried in Graded company he impressed on soft-to-heavy ground when winning by 18 lengths over two miles in a conditions hurdle at Fairyhouse earlier this month.
Gary Moore’s Jupiter du Gite (12/1) impressed when making his first start over obstacles in delivering a 15 length victory in a conditions hurdle at Newbury at the end of December.
Moore is no stranger to Cheltenham glory having saddled the likes of Sire du Berlais to Grade 1 glory at the meeting in the past and it was hard not to be impressed with his Castle du Berlais geldings UK debut. More will be known about his prospects after Saturday with the gelding set to take on Dixon Cove (25/1 here), Scriptwriter (16/1) and Irish raider Comfort Zone (14/1) at Cheltenham.
Scriptwriter showed fair form in Group company last year for Aidan O’Brien and will have no issues with the track having taken a Grade 2 for Milton Harris at the Festival venue on his second start for Milton Harris in November.
A winner on the Flat since both of those hurdles victories came on a sound surface.
The most interesting entry in the race is the French Grade 1 winner St Donats (20/1) who is trained in Chantilly by Hugo Merienne.
Owned by the trainer in partnership with part-breeder William John Williams the gelding cemented his place at the top of the juvenile hurdling division in France when winning by an easy 11 lengths in the Grade 1 Prix Cambaceres over 2m2f at Auteuil in November.
The main concern with regards his Cheltenham chances is no doubt how he will handle the undulating track with all six of the geldings previous efforts coming at relatively flat Auteuil.
St Donats is far from certain to run however with his trainer stating in recent days that the lucrative four-year-old program at Auteuil this spring is the likely route he will take.
The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle has been won by the likes of Weapon’s Amnesty, Bobs Worth, Brindisi Breeze, At Fishers Cross, Unowhwatimeanharry, Penhill, Minella Indo and Monkfish in the past. The big staying novice hurdle held on the final day of the Festival is often a good guide with regards to future Cheltenham success
Mentioned earlier in the piece Embassy Gardens (7/1) impressed in winning easily at Thurles recently and is one of 77 engaged in the three mile contest.
That triumph wasn’t enough to see the gelding jump to the head of the market with Henry De Bromhead’s Hiddenvalley Lake the current 11/2 favourite.
Unbeaten in two Rules starts the Sholokhov gelding impressed in a Grade 3 over three miles at Cork last month.
Like so many of the Irish horses mentioned in this piece he is likely to head to the Dublin Racing Festival early next month and he could provide his handler with a second winner in this race having won it in 2019 with Minella Indo.
Three Card Brag (10/1) justified odds-on favouritism for the Gordon Elliott yard over an extended two-miles-three-furlongs at Fairyhouse recently.
While untried at three miles the six-year-old hails from a family of stayers that include the likes of Idle Talk, Belon Gale, Bubbly Breeze and Whateva Next who all excelled over in excess of three miles.
Weveallbeencaught (16/1), a general 16/1 chance is the shortest price of the UK-trained runners with Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge having won a maiden hurdle at Cheltenham at the start of the month.
Previously well held behind Hermes Allen in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham more will likely to be needed if he is to get the better of his Irish rivals.
Grey Dawning (20/1) has won his last three starts over hurdles for Dan Skelton including a 2m5f Grade 2 at Warwick.
He shaped as if further would suit in that Warwick contest and holds claims for a yard who have had a disappointing few years Festival winners wise.