1:30 SUPREME NOVICES HURDLE
A great race to start the festival with some very exciting novice hurdlers to choose from. Many future stars such as Altior are listed among recent winners but only Douvan and Vautor have gone off as favourites. Clearly this is driven by the fact that many are unexposed and are still improvers – all in all a hard race to call.
One thing that is clear is that Willie Mullins knows how to win this one having saddled four of the last ten winners and his ASTERION FORLANGE is my idea of the winner on known form.
Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin has done what has been asked of him but his comfortable victory LTO over some average horses at a flat track (Huntingdon) does not provide solid evidence that he can win this and his price is too short in my view.
I had a little antepost money at 33-1 on Alan King’s EDWARDSTONE and I am happy to have that one in the book. This good looking son of Kayf Tara caught my eye when he was just beaten by a neck behind Stolen Silver at Haydock. He took a strong hold that day despite wearing a first time hood and I think he can improve as he matures. The inevitable strong pace will help him settle and he remains a good bet at 16-1.
Abacadabras, Chantry House and Fiddlerontheroof are all of interest – particularly the latter given that Robbie Power is very bullish about his chances. However, if I have another bet it will be on CAPTAIN GUINNESS. Although lucky to win he impressed at long odds on debut just before Christmas despite running green and still looked babyish when he ran a very good second to Andy Dufresne when upped in grade next time out. The De Bromhead / Blackmore combination have been in great form this year and I think this is a decent each way punt.
2.10 ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY NOVICES’ CHASE (Grade 1)
Like the first this is another race that features in Altior’s trophy cabinet but this is an elite race and we know a lot more about the runners. Nothing has won at longer than 10/3 in the last decade and six of the winners were favourites.
My expectation is that the trend will continue and NOTEBOOK is a confident selection. He jumps well and finishes strongly which are powerful credentials to bring to the Festival.
The contrarian in me wants to find some longer priced interest in the race and I particularly like ROUGE VIF who looked a very genuine type when winning the KingMaker LTO.
ESPRIT DU LARGE is a more speculative choice particularly as he is coming back from a short lay off. However, his LTO victory was impressive and if he arrives in good shape he could trouble the market leaders.
ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE (Grade 3)
When looking at the antepost market I was looking for a strong jumper, probably eight years of age and with some proven course form. Accordingly,I took THE CONDITIONAL at 14-1 and I am happy with that as a really good value each way bet. Now we have the weights and the final field I still like him at anything better than 8-1.
MISTER MALARKEY is a favourite of mine who game good for me LTO when winning impressively at Kempton and he is worth an e/w interest.
KILDISART, conversely, has let me down recently but with Pauling back on form he could well figure today.
The favourite Vinndication, Paul Nolan’s Discorama and the gallant, and appropriately named, Who Dares Wins all have strong chances. Of these Discorama is the most interesting given his recent wind op.
UNIBET CHAMPION HURDLE CHALLENGE TROPHY (Grade 1)
There is a slightly disappointing feel to this field and a number of runners are difficult to analyse. After much head scratching I have landed on DARVER STAR who has improved significantly in his last two runs. LTO he ran extremely well behind Honeysuckle. His trainer won this last year and he is a good each way bet.
At longer odds, both CORNERSTONE LAD and DAROSSO will love the ground and look good value.
CLOSE BROTHERS MARES’ HURDLE (David Nicholson) (Grade 1)
This race is about two very good mares in HONEYSUCKLE and Benie Des Dieux. I can’t separate them and will go with De Bromhead’s girl on value grounds.
Benie Des Dieux would have won this last year if she hadn’t fgallen at the last and it is the beneficiary of he misfortune, ROKSANA who represents the each way value.
NORTHERN TRUST COMPANY NOVICES’ HANDICAP CHASE (Listed)
IMPERIAL AURA is a progressive sort and a justified favourite. Lots of others to choose from but the two that catch my eye the most are HOLD THE NOTE and the long priced TRAINWRECK.
NATIONAL HUNT CHALLENGE CUP AMATEUR RIDERS’ NOVICES’ CHASE (Grade 2)
To my mind this is between two out and out stayers from either side of the Irish Sea – SPRINGFIELD FOX and RAVENHILL