It’s one of the biggest day’s racing at Newbury of the entire season on Saturday and we start off on ITV with a competitive 2m 4f handicap hurdle at 13.50. Nicky Henderson has three runners declared so that shows you how competitive it is.
James Bowen ride top-weight Soul Emotion who came over from France and laughed at his initial handicap mark last season by posting two wins. He’s shot up to a rating of 150 now and that looks fair.
Nico de Boinville rides Downtown Getaway, who won nicely at Ascot last January before disappointing at Aintree behind Champ over three miles, while right at the foot of the weights, Fergal O’Brien’s Pride of Lecale won well at Market Rasen earlier this month – but this is a tougher assignment.
The one I like is the Lucy Gardner-ridden Couer Blimey at 14/1. He did well on the Flat winning at this venue over 2m 2f on soft ground and has been fourth on both starts – including to Monsieur Lecoq in the Welsh Champion Hurdle – since reverting to timber last month.
He looks a decent each-way play at the prices.
Nicky Henderson traditionally targets the 2m Intermediate Hurdle at 14.25 on this card and his Epatante looks a perfect fit. She started favourite for the Mares novice hurdle at Cheltenham Festival, but ran very keenly and finish ninth.
A strong pace will suit her. The danger is the Scottish challenger Elvis Mail. I was impressed with his comeback run when he won at Ayr earlier this month. If you don’t fancy the short-priced favourite – he could be the value to hit the places at least.
The feature race of the day is the Ladrborkes Trophy at 15.00 and I was lucky enough to win it on on Trabolgan back in 2005. The second-season chaser profile has served us well in the last few years.
OK Corral fits the bill this year and his chase win at Warwick last season on ITV looked great. If he reproduces that level of form, he has to be in the shake up.
Elegant Escape was second in this contest last year and looks the each-way bet in the race. He always seems to make a mistake at a crucial time, so the fitting of first-time blinkers could help him concentrate better.
He could be the one they all have to beat.
His stablemate West Approach was fifth in this contest last season off an 8lb lower mark, so the question is has he improved by that much to improve his placing this year or did he win a weak-ish race at Cheltenham last time?
Willie Mullins’ Cabaret Queen is among the market leaders on the back of a easy win in the Munster National. She’s up 16lb for that victory and follows the same path Total Recall took to victory here a couple of seasons ago.
While this is a different ball game, Mullins is a genius at improving horses and that view will only be enhanced if she wins as she used to be trained by Dan Skelton.
Her stablemate Yorkhill is a fascinating runner and I can see him posting a big performance. He ran a hell of a race at Gowran Park considering how badly left he jumped.
In a fast-run race on a left-handed track, I can see him hitting the places.
My idea of the first four home are Elegant Escape, Ok Corral, Yorkhill and De Rasher Counter in a race where Paddy is paying the first 6 home.
A competitive 2m Handicap Chase rounds off the card at Newbury at 15.40 where Whatswrongwithyou is the selection. He’s a funny horse to work out as he has lots of ability and this track will suit him. He’s also had a wind operation.
He’s a strong traveller who needs to be delivered late.
Of the other, Seamus Mullins’ Chesterfield ran well last time and this flat track will help him. To be honest, it was a toss-up between the pair in the finale but I’ll just side with the Henderson runner.
There’s an inspection at 8am on Saturday morning at Newcastle and let’s hope their big day over jumps with the Fighting Fifth Hurdle gets the green light.
I really want to see Buveur D’air win well in the Fighting Fifth at 14.05 – like he did last year when beating Samcro.
He’s had a little back operation during the summer and connections think they have him back to his best.
He has some tricky opponents and the Lady Buttons camp are gambling a bit in this company. She’s a star and while I think she will run well – she may just come up short.
Lake View Lad loves Newcastle and everything looks right for him to launch a repeat bit in the 3m Rehearsal Handicap Chase at 15.20. However, he is 17lbs higher than when winning last year!
Rose Dobbin’s horses are back healthy this season and Jonniesofa could be a big player after winning his comeback run earlier this month at Ayr, having been off since last December.
*Prices and entries correct at publication