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Plenty of pace on here in a competitive event for this level and I was very impressed by how Doukarov got the job done last time out over the course and distance off a mark of 113. Only 3lbs higher here, his chance is there for all to see, but that may not have been the best strength in depth race and the more testing ground also poses a major question.
However, the one to oppose him with has to be the top weight BEAUFORT WEST, who has been given a really big shout by the handicapper with Niall Houlihan taking another 5lbs off his back. The key to his chance is dropping back to 2m and returning to the larger obstacles on ground which will be perfect for him.
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I was hoping that VANILLIER would stay over hurdles and bid to follow up his Albert Bartlett success in the World Hurdle this season, but connections have decided to send him chasing and his stamina kicked in late on to pull clear for a decisive success in the Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown last month. The extra yardage looks sure to bring about further improvement and I see him as a big player in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham rather than the three-miler.
Ontheropes is another marathon performer in the making and 3m around here may prove a we bit sharp, so the biggest danger to the selection could come from Run Wild Fred – who relished the step up to 3m in the Troytown Chase at Navan and is likely to make this a proper test.
Beauport ran a cracker on his return at Sandown Park and should have come forward plenty for that effort as I earmarked him looking big and well in the parade ring that day. Jordan Nailor has forged a really good partnership with him too.
He could be the biggest danger to the class of the field, DASHEL DANCER, set to race off 149 under Rex Dingle. Winner of the Ascot Chase at the back end of last season, the eight-year-old was far from disgraced in the 1965 Chase at the Berkshire track where the ground just may have been a shade too quick.
Back into handicap company at a flat track, which seems to suit him best, and with his stable back in form, I believe he can give the weight away to Beauport and Masters Legacy.
Sharjah is a standing dish in this race and would surely have won a Champion Hurdle by now if given a mix of a better ride and the absence of a couple of outstanding mares in the past few years in this division. He is by far the most likely winner, but odds-on is not my game and I am going to give one last chance to his stablemate SAINT ROI here.
After hosing up in the 2020 County Hurdle off a mark of 137, he was then pitched into graded company and was hugely impressive in winning a Grade Three at Tipperary before a neck second in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
His two runs since then were hugely underwhelming as his sloppy jumping has been his weakness. It is interesting that Willie Mullins is persevering with him over timber and on decent ground. He is coming here fresh though, and he could be worth chancing one final time.
Innisfree Lad was given a lovely ride by Brian Hughes to arrive with every chance at the final fence in the Borders National only to be picked up by the course specialist Big River on the long run to the line. He is a player at this shorter trip under David Noonan, while the progressive pair – Gericault Rock and Crypto – could also be involved with plenty more to come from their respective lockers.
However, I am quite keen on having an each-way play on FULL BACK, who has been pitched into some tough handicaps on his first two starts this term – not being disgraced in the Native River Handicap Chase at Chepstow (needed the run) and then an early mistake put paid to his chance here at Newbury last time out. This is a marked drop in grade for Full Back and the assessor has lowered him 5lbs to 135, so he will do for me.
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COOL MIX has been the epitome of consistency and was merely outpaced down the home stretch after one clumsy jump when a 13 lengths fourth of 12 behind the classy Aye Right in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. The handicapper has been more than fair by dropping the nine-year-old a very handy 3lbs to a mark of 129 and he looks a very solid each-way play if all eight runners go to post.
Of his rivals, Chirico Vallis still looks fairly weighted following his win at Chepstow and was rated higher over hurdles, while Cat Tiger is better than he showed last time out at Aintree when he didn’t take to the famous obstacles.
I am not so sure that this year’s Challow Hurdle is up to the usual level of this normally hugely informative Grade 1. Stage Star has done absolutely nothing wrong on both of his starts, but has run in moderate events and needs to take another bigger step forward here. What has been impressive has been the way this youngster quickened away in the closing stages on both occasions.
But, I am a big fan of GO DANTE, who has simply been crying out for this extra four-and-a-half furlongs following a smooth enough win first time up at Bangor and was then merely outpaced by Tweed Skirt in an introductory hurdle at Ascot. I could easily see this son of Kayf Tara being a springer in the market and I know that connections were desperately disappointed with that run last time out.
Kapga de Lily has been a remarkable success story for connections and was given a lovely, positive ride by her amateur jockey at Hereford to win the feature series final at the track for the second successive year. However, you just get the feeling that this return to two-and-a-half miles may find her out, and this is a slightly better contest to boot.
As you know I hate punting or tipping favourites, but ZAMBELLA remains on an upward trajectory over fences having taken on the very best best in her 10-race career over the larger obstacles. A feature of those wins has been her high cruising speed and there is little doubt that two-and-a-half miles compared to the minimum trip suits her so much better.
Fern Hill would have got the better of Come On Teddy in another couple of strides at Uttoxeter over two-and-a-half miles and has actually been dropped a pound to 136 here. But, I reckon RAPPER should be much nearer to him in the betting. Henry Daly’s charge was a really smart handicap hurdler last year, with a career best effort over timber coming with a seventh in the Pertemps Hurdle Final – when he definitely did way too much too soon.
It’s hard to explain his first pulled up run at Aintree, but he followed that up with a 4 length second to Jeremy Pass at Ascot off 135 when the ground would have been quick enough. With those two runs under his belt, this should be his peak run and this softer ground over this intermediate trip looks the perfect make-up for him off what looks a very competitive mark.
13:25 Newbury – Beaufort West (Each-Way)
13:45 Leopardstown – Vanillier
14:00 Newbury – Dashel Dasher
14:20 Leopardstown – Saint Roi
14:35 Newbury – Full Back (Each-Way)
14:50 Doncaster – Cool Mix (Each-Way)
15:05 Newbury – Go Dante (Each-Way)
15:20 Doncaster – Zambella
15:35 Newbury – Rapper
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