Newbury takes centre stage on Saturday as unbeaten chasing superstar in the making Altior returns to the fray.
Nicky Henderson’s charge hasn’t been sighted since the spring, having undergone a wind operation this winter and missed his return date in the Tingle Creek at Sandown. He lines up in the Game Spirit Chase and, on paper at least, looks to be in a match with Politologue.
Near his best, the 4/7 favourite Altior should oblige and win this race for the second year running, confirming his status as top dog going into the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham next month if he does.
Any rustiness and Paul Nicholls’ rapid improver Politologue will give him plenty to think about at odds of 6/4. The long-absent Valdez is surely making up numbers alongside such a talented pair in what will be a must-see race at 15.00 on Saturday from Newbury.
Following that race is Britain’s most valuable handicap over hurdles, the Betfair Hurdle, which has attracted a maximum field of 24. A case could easily be made for around 15 of the runners in this ultra-competitive affair.
The mare Irish Roe is the plot horse at 8/1. Having run well at Doncaster behind Maria’s Benefit recently and escaped punishment, she is ‘well in’ on the ratings – but ratings don’t win races.
Nicky Henderson has won this contest five times and the Seven Barrows handler aims a quintet of runners at this renewal. Jenkins has turned a corner lately but must defy top-weight, with Verdana Blue perhaps better equipped under Davy Russell at 12/1.
Trainer Gary Moore has won this race three time in the previous ten renewals and his impressive Fontwell scorer Knocknanuss, priced at 14/1 to win the Betfair Hurdle, fits the bill nicely with scope for plenty improvement and a racing weight that ties in with six of the last nine winners. He should make his presence felt under the trainer’s son Jamie.
Later on the Newbury card, Lovely Job is fancied to run a big race in the Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase (16:10) at an each-way price of 13/2.
He was progressive over fences last year for trainer Fergal O’Brien, posting figures of 12121, and returns 5lb higher than when scoring at Taunton last time out in November.
After a short break, he’s open to further progress and should be in the first three, with his trainer operating at a 38% strike rate (5-13) over the previous fortnight.
At Warwick, 10/3 looks a fair price on Dan Skelton’s sometimes frustrating Value At Risk in the Warwick Castle Handicap Chase (15:15).
He hasn’t always shown great stomach for a battle but he got his act together in first-time blinkers when scoring over hurdles at Doncaster in December, sticking to his task resolutely.
That attitude will stand him in good stead now and, given that he races here from an 8lb lower handicap mark, he is worthy of interest reverting back seeking a second chase win in seven attempts.
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