The 12/1 flyer that could upset the favourites in the Betfair Hurdle on Saturday

The Betfair Hurdle is nicely set up, and includes a generously priced mare who'll be there or thereabouts...

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It’s the first week of Spring – though the people at trade descriptions would be entitled to have a word about that. However, between the Superbowl and the Dublin Racing Festival my spirits have soared. January is behind us and it can’t be long before the phrase ‘grand stretch in the evening’ begins to pepper my conversation.

Further optimism came from a chance encounter outside Tesco.

This also proved a lesson in the fact that value presents itself plenty of times; we just have to spot it. ‘Vincent’ held out his hand to introduce himself in a thick Russian accent. Despite the best efforts of that Meerkat brand, Russia is currently trending downwards in the leafy suburbs of South Dublin and I briefly thought about scuttling off, mumbling something about Icarus and Putin but I noticed what looked like a tub of yoghurt in his other hand.

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I’ve always held the opinion, perhaps mistakenly, that master criminals are less conscious of digestive welfare than most, so I made the percentage call to shake his hand. My risk was fully rewarded. Vincent was new in town. The tub turned out not to be yoghurt, but sour cream. He needed it for a soup, sounded like a borscht, he was cooking for himself and his Irish housemate.

The housemate turned out to be a big Elvis fan but would only sing after a few drinks. Ever resourceful, Vincent was serving wine with dinner. All too briefly our paths diverged. Dun Laoghaire is a small place though, so I’m fully expecting to run into this gregarious goodwill ambassador again –¬† with any luck, sooner rather than later. And hopefully we will get as big a dividend from the value wagers I’ve rootled out for the weekend.

An exciting Saturday it promises to be too.

The likes of Altior and Native River make their seasonal comebacks. Connections of both will no doubt have one eye on the festival but with only five weeks to Cheltenham their horses should be fairly straight. In Warwick, Saint Calvados will be hoping to cement his Arkle credentials. The big betting race is the Betfair Hurdle: competitive as ever, it looks a good race to have a go at.

Betfair Hurdle – 15:35 Newbury, Saturday

Verdana Blue went off favourite for a similar race just before Christmas. The race proved distinctly unmerry for her supporters. Being held up off a pedestrian gallop was bad enough. Further misfortune befell her when making a mistake, her only one of the race, at the third-last hurdle, just as the race was heating up. All this left her jockey challenging widest of all on the home turn. She did well to finish third in the end.

Saturday’s race should set up better.

A few of the horses at the top of the market like to get on with things. With a good gallop likely and the long home straight in Newbury to suit this mare looks sure to run well.

She rates a decent each-way bet at around the 12/1 mark, and Paddy’s offer of five places on the race only sweetens the deal.

Naas 15:20, Saturday

This looks an interesting race on paper, with the three big guns all holding decent claims. Dinaria Des Obeaux and Asthuria were both decent hurdlers and have taken well to chasing. On the figures it looks like Benie Des Dieux has it all to do, giving them 4lb and 7lb respectively.

On visual impression though, it’s less hard to see.

She was wildly impressive on her seasonal bow. But that was only her second start over fences, around the stiff jumping test that is Carlisle. I envisage her galloping and jumping her rivals into submission at Naas. Hopefully at a reasonable price.

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What do you think?