Hi all, William here. The column took a break last weekend but to thank all for their patience and to show potential new members what they could get, here’s a preview of the key races at Newbury this Saturday. More selections will be coming too, and lots more content. Thanks for all who have joined so far, please spread the word – https://jpfestival.com/membership – and enjoy!
Ladies and gentlemen, the clock is ticking.
At the time you read this there are no more than 31 days until that spine-tingling roar of the runners being sent for the Supreme and whilst this writer is never too keen to start looking at racing through a prism of four days in March, now is the time.
The trials have been well and truly underway for a little while and this weekend is hugely consequential, with not only Newbury’s Super Saturday but a fine card at Warwick and also the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
The Betfair Hurdle (3.35), Europe’s richest handicap hurdle, is a fine contest in itself although it ought to provide plenty of context on the form of Moon Racer, one of the leading contenders to the bookmakers for the Supreme.
Paul Nicholls’ Movewithetimes was fifth behind Moon Racer in that November Grade 2 when beaten three and a half lengths, although everything that could go wrong did go wrong for him. A twice raced (and unbeaten) novice at the time, the farcical early pace unsettled him most of all from the six who were there that day as he pulled his head off and afterwards he found no gap on the nearside rail before that last at the crucial stage of the race and he lost all chance there. A nice win a month afterwards should have bought him on a little and he’s surely underrated off his mark of 136 so it’s understandable that he’s popular.
Ballyandy was just ahead of him that day when third, although the Champion Bumper winner has become a tad disappointing to some, since being beaten at Sandown in December (albeit to a fine prospect and subsequent Chellos Hurdle winner in the shape of Messiere Des Obeaux). He was getting 7lbs that day, however, so a rating of 135 looks only fair.
One thing that should be noted is the lack of pace on offer in the 16 runner field, something that would hamper both chances at what is a short pair of prices.
That is the case for Song Light too, but there are reasons still to support him. Seams Mullin’s seven-year-old has not been seen for 90 days but in the shape of his last two efforts he has some of the best form in the field. The former of those was a fine fifth in the Ladbroke Hurdle of 2015 when posted right from the rear in a race where the dead heated first and second pair were prominent all the way. The third (Rennetti) and the fourth (Some Plan) have since made that form look very decent with Rennetti second only to Jezki at Navan latest (and a winner on the flat) and Some Plan now a winner over fences (rated 148). After a good comeback run on the flat he then went to the Greatwood Hurdle, where he once again ran a fine race to be a close third behind North Hill Harvey and Modus. Modus has since won the Lanzarote in fine style and North Hill Harvey had previously been fourth behind Buveur D’Air, Petit Mouchoir, and Limini at Aintree in April. He’s only gone up 3lbs since, this may well have been the plan, and there’s nothing not to like.
Clyne is the most appealing of the favourites. Transformed for Evan Williams this year, the form of the race Nobody Ever Saw at Haydock has been boosted with Le Rocher winning since and Sharp Response and Cooking Fat winning well since. He has since pushed The New One (albeit getting 7lbs) to a length at Haydock but he had L’amI Serge well behind. As a relative front runner in a race where there don’t seem to be many others, he has to be feared here.
William H Bonney improved on his Kempton comeback to take the last at the end of Trials day, when Wait For Me was leading on the run to the last but faded to finish sixth (he was also sixth at Kempton. His jumping has been a constant blight and it may prove to be again. William H Bonney is respected although others appeal as having obviously better claims.
Beltor was second in the Kempton event where Wait for Me and William H Bonney both ran; He probably needs to improve to get involved. Edddiemaurice, who was fifth there, comes into the same category.
De Name Escaped Me is a very interesting contender. Now seven for Noel Meade, he has not been since finishing in midfield in a competitive handicap hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. However, it’s interesting to note that before he had bolted up on his handicap debut and that his previous two wins were over 2 miles on soft ground, In fact, he has only won with cut in the ground and it could well be that. Kayf Blanco, Gassin Golf, Ballyhill and Boite all didn’t appear to be especially well handicapped.
The picture for the Arkle and the Champion Chase has seen more change than arguably any race but the Champion and the picture for the latter could change again following the Game Spirit (3.00).
Arkle favourite Altior, now a presumed Festival banker with the withdrawal of Min thanks to to injury, has his main test here in the shape of facing a decent set of horses. This is headed by Fox Norton, third in the Arkle last year and since a dual winner in deeply impressive fashion at Cheltenham.
This is going to be his first test over fences, although he has now had three outings over the bigger obstacles and the first time he was made to work (even if only briefly) he dismissed Charbel, who had beaten the graded winners Le Preizen and Top Notch beforehand. He did that by six lengths, showing the power that he exuded when he trashed the Supreme Novices’ field by seven lengths. From that field we now have two of the leading contenders for the Champion Hurdle, a Grade 1 winner and also four other winners. He’s rated 160 but appears even better than that and has some key advantages over his rivals too.
On the second of those occasions he had nine lengths behind him and Simply Ned, with nine more to Special Tiara, leaving him on 167 – enough to be in contention for the big event even if it may not be enough to trouble Douvan. It’s been a shame for the fans that he was injured since, meaning he missed a good few targets, and he must give 5lbs to the field so we will know a lot about how he has recovered.
Garde La Victoire, a good winner of a Sandown Handicap in January, ought to be greatly respected. Another very interesting contender here is Traffic Fluide. A really progressive novice chaser, made an highly promising first appearance of last season in the Sodexo Clarence House Chase, beaten only a short-head by race-fit stablemate Sire De Grugy when the pair were second and third to Un De Sceaux. Not seen since, this is a stiff comeback but he’s retains as much potential as any.
Module and Dodging Bullets don’t look the horses of old whilst Gino Trail looks a little overmatched.
The Gold Cup Picture is more than open to change still and it will on both Saturday and Sunday, first with the Denman Chase (2.25). The five runner field is a select one, and much focus will be on the top pairing although we should look at all the runners. O Manolai, a course and distance winner, won a valuable handicap chaser here before pulling up at Haydock behind Bristol De Mai. Le Mercurey actually beat Bristol De Mai in April when the pair last met, although he was a fresher horse after a shorter season than Nigel Twiston Davies’ charge and since one has run to the same mark and the other has improved.
More Of That, the former World Hurdle winner, is a really interesting contender here. Blood vessel problems have bedeviled him but he has run two fair races since pulling up in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. 2m5f was too short in the Peterborough Chase (or at least it appeared so), and his sixth in the Lexus Chase was a reasonable enough effort. The worry for him is that he can’t handle a battle as he used to because of physical issues.
This may come down to the top two, as the market expects. Bristol De Mai ended a long streak of seconds in spectacular style when he pummelled his field in the Peter Marsh, travelling with the zest and drawing away from his field with the power of a Gold Cup horse. It was a brilliant performance which underlined all of his best qualities, qualities he is likely going to get a chance to show off in a small field like today’s, and with the soft ground also set to suit, there’s plenty in his favour.
His main rival is Native River, the second favourite for the Gold Cup and an ever more popular option as the season has progressed. Second in the National Hunt Chase last year and then a comprehensive winner of the Mildmay Chase afterwards, he put his hat in the potential ring with a gutsy Hennessy victory and then confirmed that with a sensational win in the Welsh National off topweight – like previous Gold Cup winner Carvills Hill. The quality of both races has been bought into contention but the manner of his victories or his form from last year, cannot. It would be more beneficial for him to be in a bigger field perhaps, but he sets the standard here regardless and there’s no effort of his over fences that could be adjusted to be more reliable than anything Bristol De Mai has done. Take the evens.
2.20 Newbury – 2 pts win Native River (evs general)
3.00 Newbury – 4 pts win Altior (8/11 general)
3.35 Newbury – 1 pt each/way Song Light (10/1 general)
3.35 Newbury – 1 pt win Clyne (5/1 general)