Balding stays patient with Alcohol Free

Andrew Balding is waiting for Alcohol Free to shed her winter coat so he can give his Cheveley Park Stakes heroine a prep run before the Qipco 1000 Guineas.

The Kingsclere trainer believes having a race before the fillies’ Classic on May 2 will help her relax on the big day.

The ideal race would be the Group Three Dubai Duty Free Stakes, registered as the Fred Darling Stakes, over seven furlongs at Newbury on April 17.

“I’m delighted with her – the only problem is she’s still wearing her winter collection at the moment,” Balding told Sky Sports Racing.

“I’m just hoping the coat starts to shift – which it should do, with the weather we’ve got forecast over the next week.

“I’d hope to see a change in that, but she’s been showing all her usual ability in her work.

“She’s done two fast pieces of work, and I’m really pleased where we’re at in terms of her fitness levels and well-being – apart from the coat being a bit woolly.”

Balding accepts he may yet have to revert to Plan B, and head straight to Newmarket with Alcohol Free.

“The plan was to run in the Fred Darling as a prep for the Guineas,” he added.

“I think it’s important with her to hopefully have a run before going a mile – but if she’s not ready in time we’ll go straight to Newmarket.

“That has always been the plan, and she relaxes so well – certainly at home.

“It gives her a chance of getting a mile, but if we can get a race in as a prep to make sure she does settle that would be to her advantage.”

Jonbon hits all the right notes on Newbury debut

Jonbon lived up to the huge billing that preceded him on his debut when smoothly dispatching his rivals for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville in the BetVictor Standard National Hunt Flat Race at Newbury.

The full-brother to the brilliant Douvan – who had changed hands for a record £570,000 at the sales in November after a point-to-point win – was not in any way fazed by this first outing under rules, handling the preliminaries and the race itself with an admirable professionalism.

The 5-6 favourite settled and travelled smoothly – and was too strong for nearest challenger Flying Demon, readily stretching four and a quarter lengths clear at the line.

Henderson said of the six-year-old: “We are very lucky to be sent horses like this, and you’ve got to say you feel the pressure that comes with it. We were waiting for what fortunately happened – he was relaxed during the race and quickened up well.”

Jonbon, who came back to the strains of a Bon Jovi hit, will summer at owner JP McManus’ Martinstown Stud in Ireland, and Henderson added: “We have sighed a sigh of relief and can now dream of what might happen next year. I think he is a bit special.

“He’s a bit of a fidget at home and doesn’t stand still for long, which is one reason I wanted to bring him to Newbury. But he appears to have everything – the pedigree and the looks. He ticks every box you could wish to see and is a gorgeous horse.”

BetVictor cut Jonbon to 12-1 from 16-1 for next year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Henderson reported he had only done four pieces of work, and already jumps well.

De Boinville also had high praise for the winner.

He said: “I was really impressed with him. I watched his point-to-point, and it was clear he’s come from a very good school in Ireland. Nicky has trained him just like any other horse, irrespective of his price tag.

“It’s the start of his career, and we’re mindful that it it will hopefully be onwards and upwards.”

National destination to be decided for Minella Times

A decision may be imminent on Minella Times’ big-race target this spring – with a choice of Grand Nationals still to be made.

Henry de Bromhead’s improving chaser has attracted market support into 16-1 with Coral for next month’s Randox Grand National, after punters discerned that he is Rachael Blackmore’s most likely ride at Aintree.

Blackmore’s brilliant Cheltenham Festival performance – as top rider at last week’s meeting with six victories, including the Champion Hurdle – has inevitably increased interest in her plans for the Aintree showpiece, which has never yet been won by a female jockey.

Minella Times retains an alternative entry in the Boylesports Irish Grand National, which will be run on Easter Monday – just five days before the equivalent at Liverpool.

The eight-year-old’s target could become clearer on Wednesday – when there is another forfeit stage for the Fairyhouse race – but Frank Berry, racing manager for owner JP McManus, has stressed discussions are ongoing.

“He’s in the Irish National as well – we’ll make a decision on that in the morning,” he said.

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“It’ll be whether he stays in the Irish National, or comes out tomorrow.

“It’s very much up in the air at the minute. Today, it’s 50-50 – we’ll decide in the morning whether he stays in or comes out.”

Minella Times is one of 17 possible Irish Grand National contenders for McManus – among whom however Time To Get Up, a decisive winner of the Midlands version at Uttoxeter on Saturday, is rated “unlikely” to take part.

Rachael Blackmore is Minella Times' regular jockey
Rachael Blackmore is Minella Times’ regular jockey (David Davies/Jockey Club)

Minella Times has yet to race beyond three miles. But in just three starts this season, ridden each time by Blackmore, he followed a Listowel victory by twice staying on well to be runner-up in valuable handicaps at Leopardstown.

“He’s run two good races in two very competitive handicaps,” added Berry.

“I don’t know about the (extra) trip bringing out much improvement – but he ran well in both of them.”

Time To Get Up proved stamina was his forte when he moved up to a marathon distance for the first time at the weekend, and has since been installed as market leader for Fairyhouse.

But Berry said: “It’s unlikely he’ll run (in the Irish National).”

Patience may be required too before the much-anticipated rules debut of another potential McManus star, Jonbon.

Midlands Grand National winner Time To Get Up is rated
Midlands Grand National winner Time To Get Up is rated “unlikely” to run at Fairyhouse (Mike Egerton/PA)

The powerhouse owner bought the five-year-old, full-brother to brilliant dual Cheltenham Festival winner Douvan, for £570,000 shortly after his wide-margin success in his only point-to-point at Dromahane last November.

Jonbon has subsequently gone into training with Nicky Henderson, and is entered in a bumper at Newbury on Saturday.

But the going is forecast to be good, with watering planned during the current dry spell – and Berry said: “He’ll be ground dependent.

“If it gets much drier I’d say you won’t see him there.”

The intention remains to run Jonbon this spring, however, when conditions allow.

“I’m sure it (the rain) will come back again,” added Berry.

“Nicky’s happy with him, (but) it will be ground dependent for Newbury anyway.

“He seems to have settled into Nicky’s nicely, and we’ll see how he gets on when he runs.”

Lorcan Williams and Page Fuller have suspensions quashed

Lorcan Williams and Page Fuller have had the suspensions that followed a verbal altercation after a race at Newbury last week quashed.

The pair appealed against the four-day bans they received from the stewards as a result of their finger-pointing argument as the horses came back in following a conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle on Friday. Fuller had won the race on Our Dot’s Baby, while Williams was unplaced on Confirmation Bias.

In its ruling on Thursday, the British Horseracing Authority’s independent disciplinary panel found the jockeys’ behaviour was improper and breached the rules of racing, but in part upheld their appeal and reduced their bans to cautions in both cases.

Speaking at Doncaster on Saturday, Williams said: “We’re sports people and things do get heated. It happens in football and rugby all the time. Me and Page, as soon as we went back into the weighing room, we both apologised and things were done and dusted.

“We said we’d put it behind us. We’re both competitive people or else we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. These things happen.”

The Professional Jockeys Association welcomed the outcome, with chief executive Paul Struthers saying: “This was an incident that wouldn’t even attract a yellow card in other sports and many people enjoyed seeing jockeys showing emotion and passion.”

Hitman on target at Newbury

Hitman has his sights set on Aintree rather than Cheltenham following a bloodless triumph for Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost in the BetVictor Novices’ Chase at Newbury.

The Ditcheat handler was quick to name the Manifesto Novices’ Chase on Merseyside as the next port of call for the 1-7 winner, who overcame a minor mistake at the first in the home straight, four out, to score by nine and a half lengths from Captain Cuckoo.

Nicholls said: “I didn’t think he necessarily had enough experience for Cheltenham and he’ll go to Aintree for the Grade One over two and a half miles.

“Today he’s put in a clear round, which was beautiful to watch. The only way it might change is if the ground was very testing, when I wouldn’t be afraid to switch him back to two miles.”

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Sir Ivan put in an immaculate round of measured jumping to gain a deserved first success of the season in the BetVictor Veterans’ Handicap Chase.

Harry Fry’s 11-year-old had placed in his last three starts and then been prevented by the weather and unsuitable ground conditions from taking up further engagements.

But after gaining ground at the majority of the obstacles here, the 8-1 shot targeted long time leader Valadom in the straight, overhauled that rival at the last and kept on under pressure for Lorcan Murtagh to score by a length and a half.

Fry praised the consistency of his winner, saying: “He has run well in veterans’ chases and keeps running to his mark, and I thought Lorcan got a great tune out of him.

“He was due to go to Exeter which was called off, then he was in over hurdles at Huntingdon, but when I got there the ground was bottomless and I took him out, and decided to wait for this.”

Tom Buckley and Always Resolute (left) in action at Newbury
Tom Buckley and Always Resolute (left) in action at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Tom Buckley enjoyed a winning first ride at Newbury aboard Always Resolute (6-1) in the BetVictor Seniors’ Handicap Hurdle.

The Ian Williams-trained gelding picked off his rivals in the long home straight, staying on strongly to beat Eaton Hill two and three-quarter lengths.

Buckley, who is attached to the Charlie Longsdon stable, said: “He’s run around Cheltenham which is a stayers’ course and also over two and a half miles at Wetherby. He was very slick with his jumping and put his head down when he saw the gaps.”

Iron Heart was one of two winners for David Pipe
Iron Heart was one of two winners for David Pipe (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

After bagging the featured Greatwood Gold Cup with Umbrigado, David Pipe completed a double when Iron Heart resisted the late surge of Java Point in the BetVictor Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

The bottom-weighted 9-2 joint-favourite was confidently handled by Fergus Gillard, but after going clear lasted home by just a neck.

The Irish Thoroughbred Marketing-sponsored bumper went to 14-1 shot Charlie’s Glance, who scored by five and a half lengths under Harrison Beswick from Our Jester and Silent Revolution for trainer Andrew Martin.

The Alex Hales-trained Millers Bank (7-1) took the BetVictor Handicap Hurdle, keeping on too well under Harry Bannister for Highway One O Two and Hasanabad.

Umbrigado lifts Greatwood gold and enters Cheltenham reckoning

Umbrigado’s dramatic triumph for David Pipe and David Noonan in the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury left owners John White and Anne Underhill dreaming of realising their long-held ambition of a winner at the Cheltenham Festival.

Their steadily-progressing seven-year-old travelled strongly throughout the two-and-a-half-mile contest, and under a confident ride by Noonan prevailed after jumping the final fence three lengths down and with three horses still in front of him.

The 13-2 chance fiddled that obstacle but it did not impair his momentum, and when The Big Bite veered left towards the water jump Umbrigado took advantage of being wider than his foes, his strong finish launching him to a length and length and a quarter success over Killer Clown and the wayward last-fence leader.

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Umbrigado holds entries in two races at the Festival and was cut from 14-1 into 10-1 for the Paddy Power Plate with the sponsors.

However, Pipe is mindful that the Festival is sooner than ideal, and said: “We entered him in the Grand Annual and the old Mildmay of Flete at Cheltenham but weren’t sure, and today’s race was a good payday in its own right.

“Coming into today I wasn’t certain about the ground, but David gave him a great ride. He’s a strong traveller, but doesn’t always find as much as you think he will in a finish. What we had today was a bit of luck with the leader hanging, and we were in the right place to cash in.

“Regarding Cheltenham we will go by the owners and see what they want to do. They would love to have a runner with a good chance, but whether it’s the two-and-a-half-miler on Thursday or the Grand Annual on Wednesday it could come a bit quick.”

Noonan deserved this big-race success and his mount will now be brim-full of confidence following three wins since going chasing.

He said: “I planned to settle him halfway back and give him a bit of room. He’d idled a bit when taking the lead at Wetherby, but today he battled well on ground that was the best he’d run on.

“Even at the last I was confident I wasn’t out of it, and he powered to the line. He hasn’t had an overly-hard race, and he’s adaptable in the way he can be ridden.”

Grand Sancy and Capeland bid to extend Nicholls’ Newbury domination

Paul Nicholls fires a twin assault in his bid for a 10th victory in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday.

It is 15 years since the Ditcheat handler first landed the prestigious handicap chase with Cornish Sett, since when he has added to his tally with the likes of Big Fella Thanks (2010), Pacha Du Polder (2013) and San Benedeto (2019).

Nicholls said: “The race fits in with the programme for horses that don’t go to Cheltenham and like nice ground, so we always like to have runners.

“It is good prize-money and a nice race to run in. I’m excited about the two I have in this year.”

The trainer’s chief contender appears to be Grand Sancy, who makes his handicap debut over fences in the hands of Bryony Frost.

An impressive winner of a Listed novice chase at Chepstow in October, the seven-year-old was disappointing when a hot favourite for the Grade Two Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton the following month and has not been seen since.

“He won impressively at Chepstow before a blip at Wincanton when he choked a little bit, and half-panicked after making a mistake on tacky ground,” Nicholls told Betfair.

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“Basically his wind is fine and I’ve held him back for the spring because he can’t handle the type of deep mid-winter ground we’ve had over the past three months.

“We know Grand Sancy goes well fresh, he will relish the ground, the trip is right and his best form has been racing left-handed, so he has loads in his favour in a race we have farmed in recent times, with nine winners in 15 years.”

The other Nicholls-trained runner in a 14-strong field is top-weight Capeland, who will be ridden by Daryl Jacob.

“I’ve booked Daryl Jacob for Capeland as they got on so well together in victory two months ago at Wincanton,” the trainer added.

“While this horse can handle most types of ground, it is fair to say he is hard to place because he is on a stiff enough handicap mark.

“However, the flat nature of the course at Newbury is very much in his favour.”

David Pipe saddles Umbrigado, who is bidding to complete a hat-trick following wins at Fontwell and Wetherby since the turn of the year, while Emma Lavelle’s Killer Clown appears for the first time since scoring at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Lavelle said: “I’m really happy with him. It was a toss-up between running him here or waiting for the novices’ handicap chase at Sandown next weekend, but I know he wants nice ground and it looks like that is what we’re going to encounter at Newbury.

“He’s an improving horse and I think a lot of him, but he’s been heavily penalised for winning impressively at Kempton – he’s gone up 15lb.

“I’m looking forward to running him against more experienced rivals. His jumping has been good and hopefully he’s going the right way.”

Windsor Avenue is an interesting northern challenger for Brian Ellison.

The nine-year-old was runner-up to the top-class Imperial Aura on his first start of the season at Carlisle, and while he has failed to rediscover that form since, he is fitted with both a tongue-strap and cheekpieces for the first time this weekend.

Ellison said: “He was travelling well at Ascot last time, but he basically made a mistake and lost his confidence.

“He had his wind done last year and we’re putting a tongue-strap on him on Saturday to help him. He’s also wearing cheekpieces as he’s one of those that seems to look at other horses rather than concentrating on what he’s doing.

“Being quite honest, he looks fantastic, and I think the better ground will help him as well as he’s a horse with a lot of speed.”

Alan King’s Senior Citizen, the Nicky Henderson-trained Pistol Whipped and The Big Bite from Henry Oliver’s yard also feature.

Soaring Glory scales new heights in Betfair Hurdle

Jonjo O’Neill illustrated his knack for laying out a horse for a big handicap when Soaring Glory swooped to conquer in the Betfair Handicap Hurdle.

Under the trainer’s son Jonjo Jr, the 17-2 shot looked to be travelling by far the best approaching the final flight and when given the signal, he accelerated away on the run to the line.

Soaring Glory pulled three lengths clear of Fifty Ball, with Edwardstone a length and a half back in third and Annual Invictus fourth.

Buzz in fifth was the best of Nicky Henderson’s three runners as Mister Coffey ruined his chance by hanging in the closing stages, while 11-2 favourite Cadzand failed to menace.

O’Neill admitted he thought he had a good horse on his hands when Soaring Glory won at Chepstow on his seasonal bow.

The Jackdaws Castle handler said: “After Chepstow, he fell when going too easily in a bad race at Wetherby. He was not a natural jumper and Yogi Breisner did a lot of work on him.

Jonjo O'Neill was delighted with Soaring Glory
Jonjo O’Neill was delighted with Soaring Glory (David Davies/PA)

“It’s great to win a race like this and we thought ‘let’s have a go’ as novices often do well in it.”

O’Neill will almost certainly look at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, for which Paddy Power cut Soaring Glory to 10-1 from 25s.

He added: “He’s entitled to run in it and Jonjo is riding with loads of confidence. He’s super cool and he does the job right.”

Champ delights Henderson with Game Spirit second

Nicky Henderson was thrilled to see Champ enhance his Cheltenham Gold Cup credentials in defeat after finding only Sceau Royal too strong in the Betfair Game Spirit Chase at Newbury.

Having been off the track since claiming a last-gasp victory in what is now the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, the JP McManus-owned Champ was originally due to make his long-awaited return in the three-mile Betfair Denman Chase.

However, with Newbury’s Betfair Super Saturday card pushed back eight days after the original fixture was frozen off, Henderson made the surprise decision to instead run Champ over an extended two miles in the Game Spirit, due to the meeting’s proximity to the Festival.

Ridden forward by Nico de Boinville back over this shorter trip, Champ travelled with zest and jumped with accuracy, before eventually being reeled in by Alan King’s proven two-miler Sceau Royal (3-1 favourite) and Daryl Jacob.

“He’s enjoyed himself there and he’s clearly not slow,” said a delighted Henderson.

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“The great thing was his jumping – it was deadly – and that will have done him the world of good.

“We boxed him over to Henrietta Knight’s the other day and he’s gone three times either way in the loose school. That (his jumping) needed ironing out and it clearly worked.

“He’s an exciting horse and much better on a racecourse than at home. You wouldn’t give two and sixpence for him on the grass gallop, but when he gets to the racecourse it’s like flicking a switch and he’s on the case full wallop!

“He’s got so much natural pace and he’s versatile. It was better to give him a kinder race today than go three miles, but on the evidence of the RSA last year, we know he stays.”

Bookmakers were clearly impressed by Champ’s display in being beaten just two lengths, with Coral cutting him to 6-1 from 8-1 for for the Gold Cup on March 19, making him their second-favourite behind dual winner Al Boum Photo.

Henderson added: “He was on the bridle until the second-last and now we have two days short of a month until the Gold Cup.

“We are now very much looking forward to Cheltenham with him.”

King was understandably proud of the admirable Sceau Royal, who was winning for the third time this season, having previously landed the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las and the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.

The nine-year-old, who fell on his most recent outing in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, is entered in both the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next month, but is not certain to line up in either.

Sceau Royal on his way to winning at Newbury
Sceau Royal on his way to winning at Newbury (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

King said: “He’s a wonderful little horse and it’s great for the owners, as they had a bad day yesterday, losing poor old L’Ami Serge.

“I’m not sure what happened to him at Kempton last time – it was so out of character for him to end up on the floor. He jumped absolutely super today, didn’t he?

“Whether he goes to Cheltenham will be very much ground dependent. If it’s soft ground we’ll wait – there’s the two-and-a-half-mile race at Aintree (Melling Chase) and the Celebration Chase at Sandown, so we’ll see.

“I’m not saying he won’t go to Cheltenham, but we would need it to dry out quite considerably, which can happen.

“We’ll enjoy today.”

Gowel Road forwards Festival claims at Newbury

Gowel Road overcame greenness to earn himself a possible visit to Cheltenham with an all-the-way triumph for Nigel Twiston-Davies and son Sam in the Read Paul Nicholls On Betting Betfair Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury.

The 7-2 shot was a bit wayward at his hurdles on occasion, but after being joined by Good Ball halfway up the home straight, he soon saw off that rival on the run in to score by five and a half lengths.

In the colours of smart hurdler and chaser Double Ross, the winner might well take up his entry in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Sam Twiston-Davies said: “He was a bit of a rebel when he came straight to Grange Farm from the sales. Zac Baker spent a lot of time working on him and Tom Bellamy got bucked off on the odd occasion.

“He’s still incredibly green and at Ffos Las he was inclined to go left. I thought a lot would want to take the lead today, but he was sensible in front. He looked at a couple of the wings, but he’s learning and was brave at the finish, knuckling down well.

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“We’ve had an up-and-down year and after three we liked pulled up yesterday, he comes here and rocks up. There’s no rhyme or reason to it.

“It would be nice to think he can go up in trip as he has a nice way of running, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he runs in the Supreme. Remember he is trained by Nigel!”

Aintree is the aim for Polish after a fine staying performance in the Betfair Weighed-In Podcast Weekly Handicap Hurdle.

Under Paddy Brennan, the 14-1 chance gradually picked off his rivals to score by two lengths and one and three-quarters from Howling Milan and Southfield Harvest.

Brennan said: “At no point was I comfortable or happy. It was hard to be confident as there were several going better than me turning in.

“I thought the winning post at Newbury was as far away as the pubs opening, but he dug deep.

“When I sent my review to Fergal (O’Brien, trainer), I told him the horse had had a hard race and he won’t need another before Aintree.”

Paul Nicholls completed a double when Enrilo got the best of a good battle with Hold The Note and Ballymoy in the “My Oddsboost” On Betfair Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.

The 2-1 favourite looked to be going much the best two out, but in the end had to be driven out to score by half a length and the same under Harry Cobden, adding to Nicholls’ Denman Chase success with Secret Investor.

The winning jockey said: “He’s a horse that does everything very well on the bridle and if I’d committed two out, we would have got beat.

“He did well to win and Paul’s talking about sending him to Aintree.”

Sam Thomas has a good prospect in Good Risk At All (10-1) who ran out a clear-cut winner of the Read Tony Calvin’s Tips On Betting.Betfair National Hunt Flat Race, beating I Like To Move It by two and a quarter lengths.

Winning rider Tom Scudamore said: “Sam is doing really well and has had a lot of winners. This horse is not a Cheltenham horse for this year, but will be in time.”

Secret Investor springs Denman Chase surprise

Secret Investor repelled stablemate Clan Des Obeaux in a thrilling climax to the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury.

Trainer Paul Nicholls had saddled nine previous winners of the recognised Gold Cup trial, with Ditcheat greats Kauto Star (2007) and Denman himself (2008) both claiming victory en route to Cheltenham glory the following month.

Dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux, who won a rescheduled running of the Denman Chase at Ascot two years ago, was the 6-5 favourite to get back on the winning trail, having finished third when bidding for a hat-trick in Kempton’s Boxing Day showpiece on his latest outing.

However, just as he did in the King George when Frodon claimed the prize, the nine-year-old had to make do with minor honours as a lesser-fancied stable companion made every yard of the running under Bryony Frost.

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Secret Investor was a 14-1 shot, but jumped and travelled with zest to keep the pressure on the chasing pack.

Clan Des Obeaux loomed up looking a big threat under Harry Cobden, but Frost’s mount refused to bend on the run-in and after a titanic tussle, it was Secret Investor who found most for pressure to win the day by a neck.

While the race is viewed as a Cheltenham trial, Aintree was uppermost in Nicholls’ mind after the race.

He said: “I couldn’t see that happening, but having said that, he ran well in it last year and just kept galloping.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if both head now to Aintree for the Bowl.

“I told Bryony to ride him from the front because we wanted a good pace for Clan, but Harry said his horse was just carrying his head a bit high, which leads me to think we should put cheekpieces on him next time.

“It’s something we’ve considered to sharpen his mind and we gave him the benefit of the doubt until today.”

Secret Investor (right) and Clan Des Obeaux duel to the line
Secret Investor (right) and Clan Des Obeaux duel to the line (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Aintree is also on the agenda for Nicholls’ Ascot Chase runner-up Master Tommytucker, although plans are undecided for stablemate Cyrname who was pulled up in the same race.

He said: “Master Tommytucker has some out of Ascot very well and will now go for the Melling Chase at Aintree, but with Cyrname he just can’t breathe and we’ll have to see with him.”

There was a sad postscript to the Denman Chase as the David Bridgwater-trained The Conditional suffered a fatal injury, with Nicholls expressing his condolences.

He added: “I was very sorry to see Bridgy lose his stable star just now and we all feel for him.”

Clan Des Obeaux seeks Nicholls’ 10th Denman Chase success

Dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux is the star attraction in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury.

Trainer Paul Nicholls has saddled nine previous winners of Sunday’s Gold Cup trial, with Ditcheat greats Kauto Star (2007) and Denman himself (2008) both claiming victory en route to Cheltenham glory the following month.

Clan Des Obeaux, who won a rescheduled running of the Denman Chase at Ascot two years ago, is not even entered in the Gold Cup this season – with his dislike of Prestbury Park’s undulations well proven at this stage of his career.

The nine-year-old had to make do with minor honours in third when bidding for a hat-trick in the King George at Kempton on his latest appearance, but Nicholls hopes he can open his account for the campaign on a track where he is unbeaten in two starts.

He said: “Clan des Obeaux is in good form and he’s won this race before, when it was restaged two years ago at Ascot.

“There’s this thing that he’s better right-handed, but he’s run very well left-handed and has won at Newbury twice before. A flat track suits him nicely, so we won’t be complaining about that.

“His run at Haydock (when second in the Betfair Chase) was very good, and I think we can improve on Kempton.

“We’re in slightly calmer waters than his previous two at Haydock and Kempton, but this race has been the goal.”

Clan Des Obeaux (right) winning his first King George under Harry Cobden
Clan Des Obeaux (right) winning his first King George under Harry Cobden (Julian Herbert/PA)

Harry Cobden is back on board Clan Des Obeaux for the first time since finishing eighth in last season’s Gold Cup, and is looking forward to renewing the partnership.

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“He’s in really good form at home. I schooled him earlier in the week, and he’s been working well,” said the jockey.

“He came out of the King George well and he’s in good form, (so) we’re hoping for a good run.”

Nicholls also runs Secret Investor, who was runner-up to Native River in this race 12 months ago.

Secret Investor joins stablemate Clan Des Obeaux in the Denman Chase
Secret Investor joins stablemate Clan Des Obeaux in the Denman Chase (Jeff Holmes/PA)

He added: “Secret Investor wouldn’t want the ground too soft. He’s a much better horse on spring ground and when he’s fresh.

“With his rating in the early 160s, it makes it hard for him in handicaps, so he’ll run as well.”

Clan Des Obeaux’s biggest threat appears to be the talented but difficult to predict Lostintranslation.

Colin Tizzard’s charge won last season’s Betfair Chase at Haydock before going on to finish a close-up third in the Gold Cup, but has failed to fire both at Haydock and in the King George this season.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard is hoping the combination of a recent wind operation and an upturn in stable form in recent weeks will lead to an improved performance this weekend.

“We had him in the Ascot Chase and the Denman this weekend, and the decision to run at Newbury is purely based on ground,” said Tizzard.

“Had it been nice ground we were actually quite keen on the Ascot race over two-miles-five around there.

“Newbury takes the rain well, and we’ve had a couple of dry-ish days there this week. The ground going to be good to soft/soft, which is what we want for him.

“We’re happy with him going into the race.”

Nicky Henderson’s Champ was due to take on Clan Des Obeaux and Lostintranslation in the Denman Chase last weekend, but the decision to put the meeting back eight days after the original fixture was lost to frost prompted a surprise change of plan.

The JP McManus-owned gelding will instead make his first competitive appearance since his last-gasp victory at last year’s Cheltenham Festival over an extended two miles in the Betfair Game Spirit Chase.

While connections acknowledge the trip is on the short side for a horse viewed as a legitimate Gold Cup contender, the Game Spirit is viewed as a more suitable comeback target – with the blue riband less than four weeks away.

The owner’s racing manager Frank Berry said: “Nicky is happy with him – and rather than give him a slog over three miles, Nicky thought that maybe running over two miles might sharpen his jumping.

“He’s had a few niggly problems that have held him up, but Nicky thinks he’s in good form, so we’ll see how we get on.”

Paul NichoGreaneteen takes on Champ in the Game Spirit lls Stable Visit
Greaneteen takes on Champ in the Game Spirit (Andrew Matthews/PA)

The likely favourite for the Grade Two contest is Nicholls’ Greaneteen, who was last seen filling the runner-up spot behind stable companion Politologue in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December.

“I think there is more to come, and next year he’ll be even better than he is now – he’s going to get better with experience,” said Nicholls.

“He’s in good shape and fit and ready to run very well.

“I don’t want to make the wrong decision and run him in the wrong race at Cheltenham, so this will be a good guide as to how much he’s improved and where we should end up going.”

The Ditcheat handler also runs Dolos and Magic Saint – while Alan King is represented by the high-class Sceau Royal, and Venetia Williams’ Fanion d’Estruval completes the sextet.

Buzz and Coffey lead Betfair bidding for Henderson

Nicky Henderson is triple-handed in his bid for a sixth victory in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Sunday.

It is 23 years since the master of Seven Barrows first plundered the always-competitive handicap with Sharpical, since when he has added to his tally with dual winner Geos (2000 and 2004), Landing Light (2001) and My Tent Or Yours (2013).

His two chief contenders for this year’s renewal are the unexposed course-and-distance winner Mister Coffey and top-weight Buzz.

Stable jockey Nico de Boinville partners Mister Coffey, last seen finishing third in the December Handicap Hurdle at Sandown, while Kevin Brogan takes 5lb off the back of Betfair Exchange Trophy runner-up Buzz – who would otherwise carry the welter burden of 11st 12lb.

Henderson said: “Mister Coffey finished third at Sandown last time, and I think we’ve got to assume his education is over now and ride him with more confidence and more prominently.

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“There’s no point trying to drop him out in a race like this. We’re hopeful Nico can ride a normal race, which should make it easier.

“Buzz seems to have improved a fair bit this year. He acts on soft ground, was very good at Ascot and began the season by finishing third in the Welsh Champion Hurdle.

“He has run three very sound races, but consequently has crept up the handicap. We’re claiming off him to help a bit.”

Henderson’s third string is outsider Fred, who reverts to hurdling after finishing fourth on his chasing debut at Warwick in the autumn.

Cadzand (right) on his way to victory at Kempton
Cadzand (right) on his way to victory at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The two at the top of the market are Dan Skelton’s Cadzand and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Soaring Glory.

Runner-up on his hurdling debut at Ayr, Cadzand has since produced two impressive performances to win at Warwick and Kempton.

Mark Speelman, racing manager for owners Chelsea Thoroughbreds, said: “He travelled like a nice horse last time at Kempton – and the form has worked out since, with the second (Christopher Wood) winning the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Musselburgh.

“He does look to be a horse who will hopefully be suited by a big field. He really caught the eye at Kempton and quickened up nicely, showing a nice turn of foot and putting the race to bed.

“Obviously he’s got a bit more weight to carry, but hopefully he can continue his progress.”

Ben Pauling has high hopes for Shakem Up’Arry, who carries the colours of football manager Harry Redknapp.

The seven-year-old reverts to handicap company after chasing home Metier in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown last month.

“He’s a chaser in the making, but certainly has plenty to give for the rest of this season over hurdles,” said Pauling.

“Like with a lot of horses, he’ll only get better and better with age.

“I think he goes to Newbury with a great shout. He’s a very strong traveller, he’s a great jumper and he handles very tough ground.”

Five challenge Champ in Game Spirit return

Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Champ is set to face five rivals in the Betfair Game Spirit Chase at Newbury on Sunday.

Having been off the track since claiming a last-gasp victory in what is now the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, Nicky Henderson’s charge was originally due to make his long-awaited return in the three-mile Betfair Denman Chase.

However, with Newbury’s Betfair Super Saturday card pushed back eight days after the original fixture was frozen off, Henderson has decided to instead run Champ over an extended two miles in the Game Spirit, due to the meeting’s proximity to the Festival.

Henderson said: “Champ is absolutely flying at home, his prep has all gone to plan. Obviously, we changed the races and are going for the two-mile Betfair Game Spirit instead of the three-mile Betfair Denman, but we think it’s the right thing to do.

“He hasn’t run for nearly a year so it will be a less tough race over two miles than it would be over three. With less than four weeks until the Gold Cup, it’s getting a bit tight for him to have a hard race.

“It’s really great to have moved the meeting – I must say a huge well done to Newbury, Betfair, ITV and the BHA. These races are important.”

Nicky Henderson has a big day in store at Newbury
Nicky Henderson has a big day in store at Newbury (Bradley Collyer/PA)

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The likely favourite for the Grade Two contest is the Paul Nicholls-trained Greaneteen, who was last seen filling the runner-up spot behind stable companion Politologue in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December.

The Ditcheat handler also runs Dolos and Magic Saint, while Alan King is represented by the high-class Sceau Royal.

Fanion d’Estruval, trained by Venetia Williams, completes the sextet.

In Champ’s absence, Nicholls’ dual King George hero Clan Des Obeaux will be a warm order for the Denman Chase.

The nine-year-old could finish only third when bidding for a hat-trick at Kempton on Boxing Day, but is odds-on to win this prize for the second time, having struck gold two years ago when the race was run at Ascot.

Clan Des Obeaux runs in the Betfair Denman Chase
Clan Des Obeaux runs in the Betfair Denman Chase (John Walton/PA)

Nicholls has a second string to his bow in Secret Investor.

Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation disappointed in the King George, just as he did last season, but undoubtedly has the talent to give Clan Des Obeaux a run for his money if he can bounce back to the form that saw him finish third in last year’s Gold Cup.

Amy Murphy steps stable star Kalashnikov up to three miles for the first time over fences, while David Bridgwater runs The Conditional in a bid to find out whether he deserves a tilt at Gold Cup glory.

Jeremy Scott has declared Dashel Drasher, but has confirmed he is set to take his chance in Saturday’s Betfair Ascot Chase.

Cepage (Venetia Williams) and Terrefort (Henderson) are the other hopefuls.

Buzz (yellow cap) on the way to victory at Ascot
Buzz (yellow cap) on the way to victory at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The most valuable race on the card is the £125,000 Betfair Hurdle, for which a maximum field of 24 runners are set to go to post.

Henderson, who has already won the race on five occasions, launches a three-pronged assault, with top-weight Buzz joined by Fred and Mister Coffey.

He said: “All three for the Betfair Hurdle are in great form at home. With the ground drying up, it was a slightly last-minute decision to declare Fred, but this has been the plan for Buzz and Mister Coffey all along.

“Kevin Brogan will ride Buzz and came down to sit on him last week, it’s great to have a top-class conditional on board, especially with Buzz being top-weight. I couldn’t pick between them – they’re all debating in the yard who will run best!”

Nicholls also has a trio of runners in Wild Max, Friend Or Foe and Thyme White.

Cadzand has a leading chance in the Betfair Hurdle
Cadzand has a leading chance in the Betfair Hurdle (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Other leading fancies include Dan Skelton’s Cadzand, the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Soaring Glory and Edwardstone from Alan King’s yard.

Cadzand is on a hat-trick after wins at Warwick and Kempton, and Skelton said: “It’s great news the meeting has been rearranged, a huge well done to everyone at the BHA and Newbury for making sure these important races go ahead.

“Cadzand is ante-post favourite for the Betfair Hurdle, and we have had this race in mind for him for a while now. He looks well, I am happy with him, he jumped well this morning and is all set and ready to go.

“There will be no excuses for him on the day.”

Chelsea Thoroughbreds team excited ahead of Cadzand Betfair bid

Cadzand is the new favourite for Sunday’s Betfair Hurdle after 28 runners stood their ground for the rearranged contest.

With Harry Fry choosing not to run Metier, Dan Skelton’s Cadzand is now the 9-2 market leader with the sponsors.

He is owned by Chelsea Thoroughbreds and Mark Speelman, who runs the National Hunt side of the operation, is hopeful of a bold show from the Kempton winner.

“It’s a great effort by everyone to get the race rearranged, especially with the same prize money – it makes a big difference,” he said.

“You couldn’t say the race has cut-up, but it is obviously quite nice not to have Harry Fry’s horse in there and it’s very exciting.

“Novices do have a good record in the race, but Metier would have had to give us plenty of weight had he run. My Tent Or Yours carried something similar, but it does take a big performance.

“He travelled like a nice horse last time at Kempton and the form has worked out since with the second (Christopher Wood) winning the Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh.

“He’s really a chaser in the making, but at the moment he’s not doing anything wrong over hurdles, so we see no reason not to take this step off his current rating.

“It’s very exciting – we don’t have many National Hunt horses, so fingers crossed he can fly the flag on Sunday. We hope we can create some interest off the back of it as lots of people are excited. If he were to win, there might be a couple more, you never know.

“Nothing is confirmed at the moment regarding jockeys.”

Nicky Henderson’s Buzz heads the weights with Soaring Glory, Milkwood and Shakem Up’Arry among the others.

Champ won the RSA over three miles at Cheltenham
Champ won the RSA over three miles at Cheltenham (Andrew Matthews/PA)

As expected, Champ has been entered in the two-mile Betfair Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Game Spirit Chase by Nicky Henderson.

He could face Greaneteen and Sceau Royal in the Grade Two.

In the Betfair Denman Chase, dual King George winner Clan Des Obeaux is one of 10 possibles, along with last year’s Gold Cup third Lostintranslation.