AN exciting day at Newbury ahead. Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) previews two races for us.
14:25 Newbury | Channel 4
The Denman Chase on Saturday sees seven established chasers line up in what looks like a field of inconsistent horses whose best days are behind them. However one has to win so who will it be?
Rocky Creek is the morning favourite for this and despite his form being a little bit in and out he's a high class horse. Another tilt for the Grand National looks on the cards for him and I'm not sure he'll be fully wound up for this. He has some good form to his name this season, including a second to Don Cossack in October, but at 7/4 my gut feeling is to swerve him.
The Giant Bolster was previously a top class chaser with a third and fourth to his name in Gold Cups, but he looks a shadow of that horse now. He may get competitive here but I think he is in a permanent decline now.
Houblon Des Obeaux is another who seems on the way out with some rather flat performances lately, it's 26 months since he last won, and despite some good performances in top handicaps since then I can't back him here at 4/1.
The one I'm backing in this is another horse who has been out of sorts lately. Ballynagour from the David Pipe yard looked on the cusp of becoming a Gold Cup horse last season and after a promising seasonal debut in the Charlie Hall he ran appallingly behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase and the King George.
However this represents a significant drop in class here and not only that he is taking on older horses who are declining. I expect Ballynagour to get his season back on track here, and although we have to take it on trust that his last two runs were not a sign of things to come, I still expect him to have enough to take care of his rivals here.
15:35 Newbury | Channel 4
The Betfair Hurdle is one of the big handicap hurdles of the season and this looks a real competitive race with a good mix and young unexposed handicappers and some top established runners. You could make a case for a lot of these but there is one I have my eye on.
Blazer is the favourite for this at the moment and as a young unexposed Willie Mullins horse he is of interest. He's only had six career starts, three of which were for Mullins since being purchased in France and he is obviously a talented horse.
He won a handicap hurdle last time out in good style but there was not much depth to that field. This represents a significant step up in class and he also has to content with an even bigger field here. There is the possibility he's just better than his rivals, but I'm happy to oppose him.
Modus is a novice hurdler who has only ran three times over hurdles, and despite being unexposed and full of promise I can't back him here. This is a 22 runner street fight. I don't want to back a soft novice here. Last time out he came unstuck in heavy ground while the stable was out of sorts, and although he may have a big future I can't back him either.
Philip Hobbs has a strong hand here with three runners who look competitive. They all have big field handicap experience and should enjoy the test on offer.
There were nibbles for War Sound in the Champion Hurdle market a few weeks ago and if fully wound up could go close here. Sternrubin has won his last three, including dead heating in the Ladbroke and looks progressive, but requires another step up here.
Of his three the one I like in Cheltanian. A real stalwart he won the Champion Bumper five years ago and has spent his career running in big handicaps. He won the Scottish Champion Hurdle last season and looked like he was running in to form last time out. He's also been placed in the last two renewal of this race. He could run well at a price.
The one I like here is Kalkir from the Willie Mullins yard. His raiders over here are getting more and more common and he could be about to take a big handicap back to Ireland with this fella.
It's unlikely we seen the best of him last season, he was thought of as Mullins best juvenile early in the season but after narrow defeats at Grade 1 and Grade 2 level he ran a shocker in the Triumph Hurdle.
However he returned with a second in the Coral handicap at Leopardstown and his big field experience will stand him in good stead here. We've not seen the best of him yet and David Mullins takes a handy 3lb off his back too. I make him a solid each way bet here.