The belated return of the talented Barters Hill after over a year on the sidelines takes centre stage here. Fitness and well being is the key with the 7/2 fairly short as questions have to be answered. A race of this value cannot be the main target for Barters Hill and connections will surely be eyeing a handicap at Cheltenham with this race a stepping stone, so he is probably best watched here. Alan King has a strong hand with improving types Bastien and Talkischeap. Bastien, a faller last time when looking held can go well if reproducing the form of his Taunton win but whether softer ground is ideal remains to be seen. Wayne Hutchinson rides Talkischeap who made his seasonal debut at the beginning of December, running satisfactorily but having not been seen since needs to build on that effort. He can be competitive @ 9/1 if back to the form of his victory over Blairs Cove last May. Book Of Gold has some good novice form behind the likes of Tikkanbar, Mr Whipped and Tommy Rapper last time out. Oliver Sherwood’s six year old is improving, looks like three miles will suit and can go well @ 9/1. Lough Derg Farmer, with cheekpieces fitted for the first time can leave his lacklustre chase debut behind now back over hurdles and with some decent bits and pieces of form last season, has to come into the reckoning @ 5/1.
On the figures this looks a match between both Midnights, Tour and Jazz. Placed in graded and listed contests this is a good opportunity for the consistent Midnight Jazz to win her first listed race @ 9/4. Midnight Tour struggled last time at Kempton and though talented, may just be better on firmer spring ground and could find conditions too testing. Lamnaver Odyssey likes the softer ground but needs to improve to figure here @ 10/1, Jester Jet’s form had a steadily improving look to it but that plateaued at Kempton and she needs to bounce back @ 7/1 while Woolstone One will like the ground and can nick a place for some valuable black type @ 11/1.
The first of two intriguing three runner contests with Gold Cup third and fifth Native River and Saphir Du Rheu making their first starts of the campaign. Colin Tizzard has had this race planned out for his eight year old all season and even with his penalty should make a bold bid @ 10/11. Paul Nicholls has made no secret of the fact that Saphir De Rheu will need the run, almost conceding the race and that has to temper enthusiasm as far as betting is concerned. Cloudy Dream will encounter testing ground similar to Aintree where the three miles, one furlong stretched his stamina and though race fit, it is hard to see him out staying former Welsh Grand National winner Native River.
A fascinating renewal of the Kingmaker with North Hill Harvey setting the standard after three good chases efforts, twice in graded company. North Hill Harvey should make a bold bid but the penalties accrued from previous runs could just tip the balance in favour of Saint Calvados. It is hard not be taken with the way Saint Calvados easily coasted to victory in both novice handicap starts at Newbury and this French import really could be anything and should take the beating @ 8/13. Diego Du Charmil and Drumcliff should not be dismissed and both are capable of improving and making a race of it.
This is effectively a match between Altior and Politologue as Valdez has not been seen on a racecourse since 2014. Altior makes his return to the track following a minor wind operation and by all accounts has been working very well on the gallops. The winner of this race last year, if Altior is anywhere near full fitness he should leave Politologue trailing in his wake @ 8/13. There is always a doubt that Altior may not perform to his full ability and Paul Nicholls’ Tingle Creek winner, Politologue, will be there to capitalise @ 13/8 if there are any chinks in the armour of Nicky Henderson’s unbeaten chaser in what should be a fascinating contest.
A very tricky handicap to get a handle on with question marks hovering over most of the field. Kylemore Lough is prominent in the market but has not been at his best since joining Harry Fry, struggling last time at Ascot behind Un De Sceaux. This trip should suit him and if the drop in class brings about a better performance he should be thereabouts @ 7/2. Value At Risk @ 7/2 is technically ‘well in’ based on his hurdles rating but was not overly convincing when last seen tackling fences and connections will the hope that the blinkers work again as he has been tried with numerous forms of headgear in the past. Casse Tete is an interesting contender, if taken on face value his demolition at Sandown last spring gives him a massive chance here but both of his appearances this season do not fill one with confidence, that said Gary Moore has a very good record at Warwick. 2017 winner Templehills should be primed again, though not as well handicapped as last year he goes well at Warwick and presuming his jumping holds up, should be in the mix @ 11/2. Nigel Twiston-Davies also saddles Cogry @ 12/1, who, if repeating the standard of his second in the Classic Chase would have a big chance here but the drop back to two and a half miles has to be of concern for this staying chaser, while Pressurize looks to bounce back for an out of form Venetia Williams and Thomas Crapper is having his first run of the season.
Britain’s richest handicap hurdle obviously attracts a very competitive field but this race is often won by an unexposed, lightly raced novice rather than horses with proven handicap form. The four most likely to concentrate on are Kalashnikov, Lalor, Waterlord and Lough Derg Spirit, who creeps into that category. Kalashnikov put in an admirable effort when second in the Tolworth Hurdle, has form around left-handed, galloping tracks and if his last performance has not left a physical mark, has to be considered @ 12/1 though another test on heavy ground could prove too much for Amy Murphy’s five year old. Lalor, also @ 12/1 arrives fresh from a wind operation and has form that links into the Tolworth Hurdle having split Western Ryder and Tolworth victor, Summerville Boy at Cheltenham. A strong traveller, if the procedure allows Lalor to finish his races, he could well go close here. To complete the trio of 12/1 shots, the improving Waterlord paid the price for trying to serve it up to the smart First Flow at Haydock and is better than his finishing position, he should not be discounted. Whether soft or heavy ground is what Lough Derg Spirit needs is debatable, but he has a good attitude and rallied well in testing conditions at Wincanton on his only appearance this season. He will stay further than this, could benefit from a strong pace on softer ground and should go well @ 25/1. Since Nicky Henderson found the key to Jenkins we are starting to see why connections had such faith in him but this will be much tougher from top weight and a win form eleven stone, twelve pounds would surely elevate him into the Champion Hurdle reckoning. Irish Roe has done nothing but improve for Peter Atkinson and after a game effort in defeat to Maria’s Benefit at Doncaster, must go well again here @ 10/1. Bleu Et Rouge represents Willie Mullins and must be respected @ 12/1. He has a big handicap in him and ran well last time at Ascot with a stamina test likely to suit. The Gerry Feilden Hurdle over course and distance threw up 2015 winner Violet Dancer and this year’s first three line-up in High Bridge, Charli Parcs and Poppy Kay. They must come into calculations at 20/1, 33/1 and 25/1 respectively. The talented but notoriously difficult to train, Moon Racer, if back to his best following a wind operation, could also go well @ 25/1.
Quickened Clear’s Best Bets:
Book Of Gold – 1.50 Newbury – 1pt win @ 9/1
Lough Derg Spirit – 3.35 Newbury – 1pt win @ 25/1