IT’S one of the big days of the racing calendar. Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) brings the tips.
14:05 Newcastle | Channel 4
The Fighting Fifth hurdle is the first two mile Grade 1 hurdle of the domestic season and as seems the norm now has attracted a relatively small field. Seven runners line up but five look to hold a good chance but I’m taking a chance on one.
Top Notch and Irving ran last week at Haydock with Irving getting his head in front and I’m not sure if I’d fancy either to win this. Though neither had a hard race last week you have to question whether either will be 100% for this so I’m against both for that reason.
Wicklow Brave was last seen finishing third to Champion Hurdle favourites Faugheen and Nichols Canyon, which if taken literally would see him win here. He’s been on the go almost non stop since February and though he’s a hardy sort he comes up against fresh rivals whom have form to beat him too. He’s far too short in the betting for my liking.
In the Triumph Hurdle last season I backed Beltor to win it, but it never looked like happening with him running a poor race. However he never settled that day and didn’t seem to enjoy the track and he remains a horse I am keen to keep onside. He won on his debut last season, and if he has learned to settle over the summer he can find the improvement required to take a hand in this. I make him a slightly speculative each way selection here.
14:25 Newbury | Channel 4
The Long Distance hurdle is the one the main staying hurdles of the season and though we only have five runners we have the World Hurdle and the Aintree Hurdle winners lining up and it looks a good renewal.
Thistlecrack showed at the end of last he was one of the top staying novices around with an emphatic win in a Grade 1 at Aintree before going close in the big three miles novice event at Punchestown. Shaneshill was back in third that day and it looked a good race, but this is his first time against the big boys and he’s up against two established yet young and unexposed stayers so I’m taking him on here.
It looks between Cole Harden and Whisper and in previous meetings the score is 1-1 between them. Cole Harden has had breathing problems in the past and has had another operation during the summer to try and put an end to this. His form last season was very in and out, after winning on his seasonal debut he was disappointing afterwards with a couple of flat efforts before winning the World Hurdle.
On his day he is very good but he’s not a trustworthy individual. He is prone to the odd jumping error, and coupled with his breathing problems he’s not a reliable betting proposition.
Whisper on the other hand is a largely reliable type, and after a failed attempt at novice chasing he returned to hurdles where he retained his Aintree crown.
He was well beaten by Cole Harden at Cheltenham but he reversed that next time out, and with a summer being prepared for hurdles rather than fences I feel he will make the score 2-1 to him here. He has a good record fresh and has winning form at the course and in my opinion he is the most likely winner on Saturday.
15:00 Newbury | Channel 4
The Hennesy Gold Cup is one of the seasons big handicaps and with only 17 runners and plenty of bookmakers paying each way for the first five places it’s a good betting race for punters. It’s a competitive looking race but I think I have found a fantastic each way bet for us.
Saphir Du Rhue, the top weight and favourite here is thought by many to be a future Gold Cup winner and is a promising young horse. His novice campaign last season was cut short after unseating and falling (both when favourite to beat Coneygree) and after being switched back to hurdles he came second in the World Hurdle.
He reverted back to fences for his final start at Aintree where he hacked up in the Mildmay Novice Chase and confirmed his well being with a solid reappearance at Carlisle earlier this month. Though he’s a thoroughly talented individual I can’t back him here. His Aintree win was a sub standard Grade 1 and his two failures last season worry me now he’s back in the big league. Hennessy’s can be won by top weights but I’m not sure this one will, even though I expect Saphir Du Rhue to pay his way over the season after this.
Established Grade 1 contenders Bob’s Worth, Smad Place and The Giant Bolster all come in to this with real chances at the weights having been giving some respite by the handicapper, but I’m not sure if any will win.
The Giant Bolster is past his prime, and though Bob’s Worth won on his seasonal debut, the form is open to interpretation as the second was coming back from a huge lay off and the other horses ran no sort of race. I’d love to see him win but this is a far tougher assignment. Smad Place is the most likely winner of the three but his jumping often let’s him down and this may not be the ideal race for him.
My fancy here is Houblon Des Obeaux. Last season he came second in this race off top weight and comes in to this race carrying 6 lbs less. His form last season was very good chasing home some top horses before his season rather fell apart after the Gold Cup.
He was well beaten there before falling halfway through the Scottish Grand National. He returned this year with a shocking effort in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot, but he made a bad mistake early on that day and I’m prepared to ignore that run and look at it as a positive that he’s now race fit. He showed a liking for the course last season and with a good racing weight I make him a great each way bet at 14/1 with five places on offer.
13:50 Newcastle – Beltor each way (9/1 Bet365)
14:25 Newbury – Whisper to win (13/8 Betway)
15:00 Newbury - Houblon Des Obeaux each way (14/1 Bet365)