The ITV racing team is bringing viewers action from Newbury and Newcastle on Saturday, where the Fighting Fifth takes centre stage at the Northeast course. The jumps season just gets better and better, we can enjoy a big speed clash in the Fighting Fifth and the ever-competitive Ladbrokes Trophy.
I have taken a look at four of the key races on Saturday, where even if we don’t get the winner, the races will prove very informative for the remainder of the season.
This race was formerly known as the Hennesy and has produced some spectacular winners down through the years, most notably Denman winning carrying top weight in 2007 and 2009.
The race was won last season by the Willie Mullins trained Total Recall but unfortunately, some of the lustre of this years race was lost when the Willie Mullins representative Kemboy was unable to travel due to a ferry cancellation.
Elegant Escape tops the market and there is a very interesting form line with leading Fighting Fifth fancy Smacro as Colin Tizzard’s inmate finished runner-up to Samcro in a point to point in Ireland. He ran in some of the leading novice chases last season, with a third-place finish in the RSA chase behind Presenting Percy the highlight. He won a listed chase at Sandown on seasonal debut and could be a horse to follow for the remained of the season.
The race looks quite open this year and some of the more interesting runners include Harry Fry’s American who runs very well fresh and would appreciate any rain that arrives. Aine O’Connor has received the call-up, on this very lightly raced horse, but it’s worrying that he pulled up in the race twelve months ago when very well-fancied.
The Young Master is one of the most popular horses in training and received a warm reception when getting a “peach” of a ride from Sam-Waley-Cohen to win at Cheltenham earlier in the month. He has a nice racing weight here and cannot be ruled out.
Nicky Henderson is represented by Beware The Bear, who was an impressive winner on debut last season but was disappointing in the Welsh and Scottish Nationals. He also ran very well in the Ultima at the festival and following a wind surgery he’s an interesting contender.
Fighting Fifth Hurdle
This marks one of the first proper tests for aspiring Champion Hurdle contenders. The Noel Meade trained Harchibald produced some of his memorable “on the bridle” performances when taking the prize in 2004 and 2007.
A mouthwatering clash lies ahead this season with last season Champion hurdle winner Buveur D’Air and the young pretender Samcro go head to head in what looks like a match race. Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’Air took this contest twelve months ago en-route to landing back to back Champion Hurdles and he will look to repeat the dose this year.
The JP McManus trained seven-year-old is now unbeaten in his last ten starts and will prove difficult to beat if turning up in good form.
Samcro is the new kid on the block in the two-mile hurdling division and although last season’s Ballymore winner was disappointing in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal earlier in the month behind Bedrock, he is a very exciting prospect.
As a rule, Gordon’s horses have been improving for their seasonal debuts and I expect a much better run from Samcro on this occasion.
Bedrock produced a career-best when beating Samcro but it would be a surprise if Ian Jardine’s gelding was able to uphold the form.
Summerville Boy should not be underestimated as he was a dual Grade 1 winner last season, including the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham. Tom George’s lightly raced six year is open to progression and should be taken seriously on seasonal debut.
Although a handicap, this race has been won by some proper Grade 1 horses in the past including Rock on Ruby and L’Ami Serge. Nicky Henderson has won three of the last nine runnings and is represented by Whatswrongwithyou this time around.
This seven-year-old has very few miles on the clock and seems to be improving all the time. He was a beaten favourite when last seen in the Imperial Cup but this was still a very credible run and should he return in the same form, then he’s the one to beat.
Henry Daly is a very shrewd trainer and looks to have another quality horse in his care this season with Whatmore. He has taken his form to a new level in two starts this far when finishing third in the Silver Trophy and then comfortably beating the good yardstick Ballyhill most recently. The ever-green Andrew Tinkler takes the rider on a horse he knows well and they should be bang there at the business end.
Another horse who has excelled this season is What’s Occurring, the Oliver Sherwood trained gelding might have only won a brace of small hurdle events at Hereford but such was the manner of these victories he has to be a contender. He was also only beaten eleven lengths behind the race favourite in a novice event last season.
Selection: What’s Occurring
Otago Trail was a smart horse when last seen in action, but that was over 600 days ago and he has obviously had problems since then. Venetia Williams inmate won this contest in 2016 off a mark of 146 and returns here off a six pounds higher mark. If he retains the ability he had shown then he must enter calculations.
Last seasons Eider winner Baywing makes his seasonal debut here and although he now races off a career high of 149, he is a likeable type that should give his running. I’d imagine there might be bigger targets for the remained of the season and he’ll improve for whatever he does on Saturday.
Charlie Longsdon runs Ballydine, who has only run three times over fences but boasts form figures of 231 in the discipline. The very lightly raced eight-year-old was Grade 2 placed as a hurdler and given his profile, he looks like one of the more likely types to feature.
Others to consider include Big River and Bishops Road.