12.20 Newbury ? Ladbrokes ?National Hunt? Maiden Hurdle

Newbury?s Winter Carnival gets underway with this 2m maiden hurdle whose recent roll of honour includes the likes of Buveur D?Air and Puffin Billy.

This year?s renewal looks an interesting one and in terms of hurdling form, the one to beat looks to be Lostintranslation who was second over course and distance three weeks ago. Colin Tizzard?s five-year-old improved on the form of his return to action at Chepstow to pull well clear of the third horse but he was no match for Nicky Henderson?s Claimantakinforgan on the day. This race doesn?t look any easier but his experience could prove a crucial factor and he is fancied to go well.

However, there are a host of hurdling debutants who make plenty of appeal including World Premier who was purchased by JP McManus following his victory in a bumper at Warwick back in April. The four-year-old showed plenty of signs of inexperience that day but showed he had a big engine, battling back in the closing stages before drawing clear to win by eight lengths. The form of that race hasn?t worked out particularly well but he is well thought of within the Ben Pauling yard and it is interesting that Barry Geraghty chooses him over JP?s other runner Kapcorse.

Another bumper winner who looks a smart prospect is Simply The Betts who justified strong market support to make a winning debut at Market Rasen at the end of September. Harry Whittington?s four-year-old was not an expensive purchase but had been working well prior to his debut and the form has been boosted with the runner-up Theclockisticking winning his first two starts over hurdles. He is a full-brother to Crimson Ark, who won a novice hurdle at the first time of asking and he is another to consider in an open race.

Dan Skelton ran a smart performer in the shape of Captain Forez in this race last year and he saddles an interesting newcomer here in Present Ranger. A runner-up on his only start in an English point, he didn?t seem to see out the 2m4f trip on that occasion. He makes his rules debut with the yard amongst the winners and although the strength of British point-to-point form isn?t as strong as their Irish counterparts, it will be interesting to see how he fares.

However, the one who catches my eye is BLACK OP who won an Irish point-to-point by 25 lengths in March 2016 before being purchased for ?210,000 a couple of weeks later. He made his bumper debut at Doncaster in February and showed a strong level of form to get the better of Claimantakinforgan, for all he was receiving 7lb from the runner-up. He was well-fancied for the Grade 2 bumper at Aintree?s Grand National meeting and although he failed to fire on that occasion, it is still early days with him. He should have improved physically for his summer break and given the initial promise he showed on his rules debut last year, I fancy him to go close on his hurdling bow.


BLACK OP ? 1pt win @ 9/4 (Paddy Power)

12.50 Newbury ? Ladbrokes Chase (A Novices? Limited Handicap)

Only 9lb separates the field for this Novices? Handicap in what looks to be a competitive 6-runner race.

Top weight for the contest is the Paul Nicholls-trained Cyrname who gained his first British success last time out on his chase debut at Huntingdon. Having been recruited from France, he has been held in high-regard by his trainer but did not live up to those expectations in three runs over hurdles. However, the five-year-old enjoyed the switch to the bigger obstacles two weeks ago and he looks to be an exciting prospect in this sphere. The gelding jumped boldly throughout and had too much for his rivals to win by fourteen lengths. There were only three runners, but it was a decent race with Gary Moore?s Darebin, who was sent off as favourite, a well-beaten second. Cyrname can make another bold effort on Saturday if able to build on that run.

Dusky Legend has been a very consistent mare for Alan King and can run her race again as she takes on the boys at Newbury. She performed at a very useful level over hurdles, finishing placed in the last two renewals of the Grade 2 Mares? Novices? Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. She has turned her attentions to chasing for this campaign and has finished runner-up on both starts. The seven-year-old improved on her latest start in a Listed Mares? Chase at Bangor where she was only beaten a length and three quarters by Philip Kirby?s Lady Buttons, the pair finishing well-clear of the rest. Dusky Legend is likely to give it her all as she so often does this weekend, but may find one or two with more potential too strong for her.

Preference is for HELL?S KITCHEN to continue the fine run of form for Harry Fry. The six-year-old has only had the five runs to date, winning once over hurdles, but his trainer has always viewed him as being a chaser in the making. On his chase debut in November 2016, he did well to finish third behind clear-cut winner Different Gravey, trained by Nicky Henderson, having been very keen on his seasonal reappearance. Unfortunately the gelding was not seen again until the beginning of November this year where he finished a very creditable second to Nicky Henderson?s potentially smart River Wylde. HELL?S KITCHEN was keen again early in the race but he jumped nicely and had every chance before River Wylde got the better of him by three lengths. He can come on for that run and gain his first chase success here before going onto bigger things.

Of the rest of the field, there are two last time out winners in Bigmartre, trained by Harry Whittington, and Crievehill for Nigel Twiston-Davies. The former had run twice over fences in France but made a successful British chase debut at Ludlow in October. His form links in with Cyrname as he beat Darebin comfortably by three lengths that day. The six-year-old is open to improvement but Cyrname got the better of the same rival in much more style. Crievehill got off the mark at the second attempt over fences as he won a class 3 handicap at Lingfield two weeks ago. He is bottom-weight for the race but could find one or two too good for him on Saturday. The last to mention in the line-up is Exitas who has been kept busy this year by Phil Middleton and landed a Listed handicap at Ascot at the start of November. That was a good performance to win by seven lengths, but he has now had twelve runs over fences and may find it difficult against less exposed rivals.


HELL?S KITCHEN ? 1pt win @ 15/8 (Paddy Power)

2.25 Newbury ? Ladbrokes Open Handicap Chase.

In the last 10 years, no horse has carried more than 11st 5lb to victory in this contest so O O Seven and Vibrato Valtat look up against it here with 11st 12lb and 11st 7lb respectively. The latter arrives here on his lowest mark since his hurdles days but for good reason as he has seemed to be firmly on the downgrade for a while now and left Paul Nicholls in the summer. He will likely strip fitter for his first run in the care of Emma Lavelle but, again, that was a very modest effort.

Aside from the weight, the former has plenty of upside, lining up here on the same mark as when not beaten too far in the Topham at the Aintree Festival last season. It will be no easy task conceding weight all round here on his seasonal bow but he has gone well fresh in the past and could well run into a place.

At the other end of the spectrum, Icing On The Cake is another making his debut this term and gets in here off a featherweight 10st 2lb. The lightly-raced seven-year-old shaped well when a staying on third over course and distance back in March and a 2lb rise for that effort seems perfectly reasonable. This looks like a stronger contest but he is still unexposed after only four chase starts and may surprise a few.

Nevertheless, the selection is OLDGRANGEWOOD, who wasn;t disgraced when thirs in the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase last time out and has surprisingly been eased 2lb by the assessor on the back of that. He was a fast-improving novice last season, landing three handicaps before finishing a respectable third behind Cloudy Dream in the Grade 2 Future Champions Novices? Chase at Ayr?s Scottish Grand National meeting to round off his campaign. Conditions should be perfect for him here and with his sights lowered slightly now, he should be able to take advantage.

Ridgeway Flyer looks to be the biggest danger although little can be gleaned from his wide margin victory in a match at Taunton last time. The six-year-old was a two time winner over hurdles for Harry Fry last season and has carried on in the same vein since joining Paul Nicholls ahead of this campaign, staying on well to win a Plumpton novices? handicap chase before his latest facile victory. He takes on some more experienced rivals here as he goes in search of the five-timer but is clearly a chaser going the right way at present and may well be a bit better than his mark of 137.

Fellow novices Jameson and Space Oddity may also have a bit to find in this field. Nigel Twiston-Davies? charge has a 10lb rise to contend with for a neck victory last time out while the latter races off a career-high mark here and has looked a tad one-paced in a few recent outings.

Venetia Williams? Willie Boy is an interesting contender having hit his straps since switching to fences. The Irish point winner fell at the first on his chasing bow but has a 100% record since, scoring in decent style over course and distance three weeks ago. He has a 6lb rise to contend with here but looks capable of still remaining competitive and will surely have a part to play if allowed to dominate at the front end.


OLDGRANGEWOOD? 1pt win @ 6/1 (bet365) (1/4 odds)

3.35 Newbury ? Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle.

When you remove the outlier of Philip Hobbs? 2012 winner of this race, Fair Along, from the equation, a fairly strong pattern emerges pointing towards a certain type of horse to look for in this race ? all other nine winners have been five or six years old and have been 10/1 or shorter in the market. This shows that this is usually a race for the unexposed, improving sorts who quite clearly have potential to be better than their marks.

The likes of I Shot The Sheriff, Whataknight, Beneficial Joe and Oscarteea all have plenty of experience of this type of event and have decent levels of ability, but they may be more exposed compared to many of their younger rivals and could be vulnerable to improvers. One older horse who does break the mould a little is the Philip Hobbs-trained Hello George, who is fairly lightly-raced for an eight-year-old and could have more to come this season after a good effort in heavy ground at Ayr to start his campaign. That was a good performance in heavy ground on his first try at this staying trip and despite a 3lb rise in the weights, he looks one who could challenge the younger brigade.

Speaking of said younger horses, it looks as if the market has already zeroed in on the three most likely winners, starting with Tom George?s six-year-old, Boyhood. This promising hurdler made a successful reappearance over two and a half miles in soft ground at Lingfield two weeks ago and looks a horse that has his best days ahead of him judging by the facile nature of that win and the way he was still green at times in front. The form of that win was boosted this week when the third there, Molly Carew, pushed Spiritofthegames all the way in a similar event at that track. The fourth, Away For Slates, also was a good second to a decent rival at Wetherby this week, so there?s plenty of substance to that victory. He?s gone up 7lb for that, which may not be enough to anchor him as he?s clearly an improving hurdler, but the step up in trip to three miles might do that job. He was disappointing at Bangor at the end of last season on his first go at a trip further than two and a half miles and he might just get found out by a stronger, proven stayer, even though he?s never been out of the first four in any of his races under rules.

Jonjo O?Neill?s lightly-raced Forza Milan is a fascinating contender ? a full brother to Grand National winner, One For Arthur, he certainly doesn?t want for stamina and has been steadily improving throughout all of his six starts under rules to date. He?s hugely unexposed and has already put in a performance at a very high level this season when a staying-on second to Louis? Vac Pouch, a live contender for the Pertemps crown at Cheltenham in March, at Aintree off a 6lb lower mark. That rise does look a little harsh but he did finish well clear of the rapid improver, Beer Goggles, who races in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle here earlier on this card, and Vyta Du Roc, who is well-fancied in Saturday?s Ladbrokes Trophy. Killian Moore keeps the ride and takes 3lb off again and if this five-year-old continues to improve, he?ll be hard to keep out of the frame.

However, there is one equally as unexposed who might just have more in the tank. Alan King?s BENEAGLES made an unceremonious start to his hurdling career, being pulled up at Uttoxeter, but it?s been onwards and upwards from then on as he finished a close second to useful rivals twice in two novice hurdles before breaking his duck at Huntingdon where he defeated a Nicky Henderson inmate in a match race over an extended three miles. This five-year-old then finished fifth and third in decent events over this trip at Ascot and Newbury, both times less than eight lengths behind the winner on both days, Dell? Arca, who is now rated 150 over timber, so it?s solid form. He was behind Whataknight by half a length on his reappearance this season, but does look sure to have come on for that first run, whereas Harry Fry?s charge was already race fit, so I think that form will be turned around here. A mark of 127 looks very exploitable for this promising stayer and even though this ex-pointer?s future may lie over fences, he looks to have more than enough ability to win a race of this nature on the way. Softish ground is ideal and the likely decent pace on here should suit nicely, while he?s ridden by the stable number one jockey, Wayne Hutchinson, for just the second time in his career ? was a short head second on the other occasion. BENEAGLES also sports a fist-time visor here and that could eke out plenty of improvement given that he looked as if he needed reminding to pay attention from a fair way out on that last run over C&D, before staying on strongly. All in all, he looks a very solid proposition indeed if he does, as expected, come on markedly for that first run of the season.


BENEAGLES ? 1pt e/w @ 5/1 (bet365) (1/4 odds)