There’s some terrific National Hunt action to look forward to, on Friday and Saturday. The big guns will be out in force and the two days should offer some important Cheltenham pointers.
Ladbrokes Novices Chase (Newbury 1:50pm)
Yanworth definitely looks the one to beat, despite falling at Exeter earlier this month. He was a ready victor at the same track (back in October) and ended the last campaign by landing the Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle, at Aintree. Cole Harden was the only serious contender that failed to finish that race and he was pulled-up as a well-beaten horse.
Willoughby Court looks the biggest danger and the 2017 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle winner made a pleasing-enough seasonal reappearance at Huntingdon, beating a small field to win on his chasing debut. Modus, Tommy Silver and Adrien Du Pont line-up for Paul Nicholls and all look in with a shout.
Long Distance Hurdle (Newbury 3:00pm)
All eyes will be on the mighty Thistlecrack, who makes his eagerly-awaited return following 10 months off the track. Who will ever forget Thistlecrack’s dramatic defeat, at the hands of the sadly-departed Many Clouds at Cheltenham in January?
Most expect a winning return, for Colin Tizzard’s charge, but the Kayf Tara-sired gelding will have to be at his best with Unowhatimeanharry looking to land a blow. Harry Fry’s horse won a 3-runner contest at Aintree, earlier this month, with the classy Top Notch finishing last of the trio. This looks a superb encounter and the field also includes Wholestone, Taquin Du Seuil, Ptit Zig and Colin’s Sister.
Ladbrokes Trophy Chase (Newbury 3:00pm)
A £200,000 purse is up for grabs, in this G3 contest, won by Colin Tizzard’s Native River in 2016. Royal Vacation is his representative, this time around, but Harry and American look more likely to be honeymooning when this race is over! Fry’s inmate impressed under Noel Fehily last term and we picked-out the French gelding as one to follow, this season.
There are plenty with chances though, including Tom George’s Singlefarmpayment. He finished runner-up to Cogry, at Cheltenham in October and he should benefit from that early outing. Willie Mullins’ Total Recall makes his British debut, but he will be no stranger to Irish National Hunt fans and the 8-year-old crushed Alpha Des Obeaux in the JT McNamara National Handicap Chase, at Limerick. Nicky Henderson’s Whisper is another that cannot be ruled out.
Fighting Fifth Hurdle (Newcastle 2:10pm)
Top-class action also takes place on Tyneside, with Buveur D’air searching for an incredible seventh successive victory. The Champion Hurdle winner is starting to look invincible and rounded-off an outstanding campaign by winning the Aintree Hurdle easily from stablemate My Tent Or Yours – winner of this race in 2013.
Paul Nicholls’ Irving will join Comedy Of Errors and Birds Nest, as a three-time champion, if he can pull-off an unlikely victory (no horse older than 8 has won, since Sea Pigeon in 1980). John Constable is a G3 winner, but Evan Williams’ charge was anything but arresting when 21st of 34 in the Cesarewitch. Nick Williams’ Flying Tiger should attract each-way market-support, but Buveur D’Air is the big-cat in this one and it’s very difficult to oppose him.
Saturday features many other good races, which include the Mares’ Novices Hurdle (Newbury 12:10pm), the John Francome Novices’ Chase (Newbury 12:45pm), the Ladbrokes Intermediate Hurdle (Newbury 2:25pm) and the Rehearsal Handicap Chase (Newcastle 3:20pm).
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