Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle day is one of the highlights of the jumps season and the opening novice hurdle is a belter. L’Air Du Vent has had a wind operation since his last start when he was beaten in a soft ground Grade 2 at Cheltenham over 2m 5f. He is one to keep on the right side of going forward, but the form of Chantry House’s (1.15) Cheltenham win back in November has been well and truly franked and he can maintain his unbeaten record over timber.
The selection is 10/1 at BetVictor for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival behind stablemate Shishkin (5/2) who was hugely impressive when scoring at Huntingdon on Thursday.
This is a big day for dual Champion Chase winner Altior (2.25) who lost his long unbeaten record at Ascot on his seasonal reappearance when second to Cyrname. The combination of soft ground, a step up in trip and going right-handed meant he was not seen at his best on that occasion, but Nicky Henderson has been making bullish noises about the homework of the 10-year-old who is 9/4 at BetVictor to retain his Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham next month. He should be third favourite for the Champion Chase in my opinion and he will have to be at his very best to beat the Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi next month, although he should be able to beat today’s field.
Jonjo O’Neill takes over in the saddle on former Gold Cup winner Native River (3.00) who is at his best on softer ground than he will encounter today but he is taken to make all in the Denman Chase. The selection won this corresponding race in 2017 and 2018 and is a 12/1 shot to regain the Gold Cup next month at BetVictor. The weights for the Grand National will be announced on Tuesday and it will be fascinating to see what weight the Colin Tizzard-trained runner is given in relation to hat-trick seeking National legend Tiger Roll.
Harambe did us a huge favour in the Greatwood Hurdle back in November but he is 7lbs higher today and my two against the field in the big betting race of the day are Thebannerkingrebel and Sir Valentine (3.35) with marginal preference for the latter who gets the each way vote at 16/1. Note BetVictor are offering 5 places on this valuable and prestigious hurdle.
The selection has disappointed on soft/heavy ground in his last couple of starts but he should appreciate this return to a sound surface, and he was an impressive scorer over today’s C&D earlier in the season. Thebannerkingrebel (10/1 at BetVictor) should have won at Haydock last time when he propped going into the final hurdle and lost momentum. It was not jockey Gavin Sheehan’s finest hour, but I feel he is very well treated on that form.
Even Williams has his string in excellent form, and I am looking forward to seeing Present View (4.10) step up to three miles for the first time. The selection has been off the track for a couple of months, but I have always thought he would make a better chaser than hurdler and he can rate higher going forward than his current mark.
Precious Cargo and Moonlighter are closely matched on Newbury running but, as long as the ground is no worse than good to soft, I hope to see Nube Negra (2.05) return to winning ways having finished second in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Chase at Sandown back in December. The selection is 13/8 at BetVictor.
Exeter are inspecting at 8am on Sunday with strong winds and heavy rain forecast. If racing gets the green light look out for Strong Pursuit in the Veterans’ Chase for Philip Hobbs. The selection was entitled to need his comeback when he made most until lack of a recent run took its toll. He is 7lbs below his last winning mark and has just turned ten which means he and former Festival winner Missed Approach are the babies of the 11-runner field.
Over at Punchestown and I hope to see Yanworth (1.45) cement his Festival claims in the opening Cross Country Chase having come down at Cheltenham when last seen in December.