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So, it was a relatively quiet week in the world of horse racing this week. The cold snap hasn’t really helped things, either, with a few meetings being abandoned, but then that’s what we expect at this time of year. Remember, this isn’t the summer flat season, this is the bracing winter National Hunt season, the time of year when you bundle up in your thickest coat, get your gloves and hat on and watch the finest horses in training jump the toughest obstacles in British horse racing.
Today, we have racing from Newbury and Newcastle live on Channel 4 Racing. The main race of the day is, of course, the Hennessy Gold Cup from Newbury. However, up in the north east, Newcastle have my favourite card of the year, with the Fighting Fifth hurdle and the Rehearsal Chase. Seriously, having saw Harchibald cruise over the last at Newcastle to win several years ago now, it’s just a meeting I’ve loved and I have a soft spot for it. This year’s renewal looks to be an absolute cracker, too! Over at Bet365, they will give you the best price on every horse race shown live on Channel Four if you back it from 10am on the day of the race. That means you should wait until 10am Saturday and get the best price, as they will match their competitors. What could be better than best prices? Well, if you back a winner at 4/1 or more at Bet365 on any of the Channel Four races, you get a free bet that matches your stake on the winner for the next Channel Four race.
A handicap hurdle up next at Newbury, with 12 runners declared. If Battle Born is race fit after over two years off the race course, he could hack up at the bottom of the weights, as he has some smart form in the book. However, although Charlie Longsdon is a great trainer, this is a feat that might just be beyond him. A lot will be made of Favorito Buck’s considering the breeding, but with no form in the book of note, there’s no reason to think he’ll come near Big Buck’s.
Instead, we’ll go with Oscar Sunset to keep up his good hurdle form as he returns to the smaller obstacles. It’s a wide open race, and his form over hurdles, although a bit older, just gives him the edge over most of this field.
Another handicap hurdle for us, this time over 2m and with 8 runners declared. It’s a decent field for the race, so there could be some pointers for the bigger races coming up this National Hunt season.
Theligny has done everything right this season, and could go well again. However, Ozzie The Oscar has everything going right for him. He lost to a smart one two races ago, but he got back to winning ways last time out, and with Richard Johnson booked to ride, he’s definitely the one to beat here.
Time for the Fighting Fifth hurdle, which is run over 2 miles and will give us a pointer or two towards the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Irving won this race two years ago, but has lost his way and will struggle to beat the young upstarts in the field.
Sceau Royal has turned a corner this season and bolted up in his first two races of the season. However, it’s hard to look past Triumph Hurdle form and he was well held by Apple’s Jade. Apple’s Jade was turned over at 2s-on last time out, but that was a weird race and I think she’ll get back on track here
The feature race of the day, the Hennessy Gold Cup Chase is over 3m 1 furlong and, as ever, it’s a wide-open race. Smad Place has skewed the handicap, as he’s running off 166, while the next best, Un Temps Pour Tout, is off 158. And although Smad Place is a smart chaser, this race isn’t for him.
Top weight and ground that isn’t a bog means the top weight is there for show, in my opinion at least.
I liked Blaklion a lot last year and I was hopeful for his return this season, but he disappointed last time out when stepping up to take on the real big guns. I wouldn’t be surprised if he gave a good account, but I need to be convinced he’s going to be able to make the next big step after his great Cheltenham exploits. Vyta Du roc could be well handicapped here, but might just find one or two better. Instead, we looking at the classy Un Temps Pour Tout, who has seen off several of this field and could still be well handicapped here. He’ll love the ground and the trip and should go well for the great combination of David Pipe and Tom Scudamore.
The Rehearsal Chase is our last race from Newcastle and it’s run over 2m 7 furlongs. We’ve got another classy field here, and the race is wide open. Wakanda and Virak contested the finish to last year’s race and both do enjoy it round here. Out of the two, Wakanda looks primed to go better, and Sue Smith is in good form, so should be worth a look. However, there looks to be at least two better off at the weights, with Definitly Red looking dangerous off a mark of 142. However, I’ve always been a fan of the youngster, Bristol De Mai, who is yet to finish outside of the first two over fences and has took care of some really classy sorts last season, before finding only Black Hercules too good at Cheltenham. Last time out, the run was needed and Bristol De Mai should be well-prepared by Nigel Twiston-Davies and good to take this win.
The last race of the day is a 2m hadicap chase, and like most of the handicaps today, the field is wide open. There’s a lot to like about Parsnip Pete, who has been consistent if unspectacular this season. However, he’s not a youngster anymore and might just find this field a bit tough. Raven’s Tower also appeals, but instead I’m going for the five-year-old Fou Et Sage, who should find it easier to get back to winning ways after two consecutive seconds. The mark of 137 is very generous and might just be a bit of a blot on the handicapper’s book. It’s a tough race, though, which is the usual way to end the live racing on Channel 4!