Friday brings the start of the Newbury Winter Carnival so for today’s action we’ll delve into the 4 races that are televised live on ITV.
The first race on ITV is the 2.5 mile class 2 handicap chase and with Kalashnikov to be such a short price off top weight I’m keen to find some value elsewhere.
OLDGRANGEWOOD won this race 2 years ago for the Skelton yard off a handicap 10lbs higher than he’s rated now. He’s already been clipped from 14/1 but there’s still plenty of value in the 8/1 that’s largely available around. A mark of 135 looks to be very lenient for a horse who’s got some good back class and he made a good seasonal reappearance at Aintree 20 days ago. He finished 3rd in that effort in a hot handicap and went off 4/1 co favourite. There was clearly a feeling around that he was quite well fancied for that race as the money came to carry him to joint favouritism. He managed to plug into 3rd 2 out but didn’t have enough to get on terms with the front 2. He’ll strip much fitter now he’s had a run and will be more likely to see out the entirety of the race. It’s also his second run off a wind op and it’s always an interesting time to be with a horse as the procedure usually is at maximum effect.
A proven course and distance winner that handles soft it’s hard to look past why he’s such long odds but I’ll happily take an each way on him to hit the frame. Kalashnikov is the class in the race but was quite soundly tapped for speed in the old roan chase at Aintree. The only other runner of real note for me is Eamon An Cnoic who unseated early in the Betvictor Gold Cup. He still looks well handicapped to go well in a race like this and is available at a large price of 11/1.
A very interesting novice chase over 2.5 miles is next on the card and Nicky Henderson’s superstar CHAMP heads the betting as a short price favourite. He’s antepost favourite for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham festival and he appears to be handling the switch to fences really well. He’s divided opinion with pundits as he some think he is spending too long in the air with his jumping but for a debut over fences I was quite pleased with how he jumped. He quickly made up ground easily to catch Dashel Drasher. It is interesting to see him drop back in distance to 2.5 miles but I think he does possess the tactical speed and class for the race. He smashed up on this card last year over 2.5 miles in a hurdle race and with Black Op in this field it might become a test of stamina.
Black Op was mighty impressive on his seasonal reappearance and made every yard to win easily. As visually impressive the win was I have questions about the form as he beat Mr Antolini and Lisnagar Oscar. The latter has been dropped back down to hurdles and even ran poorly over those. The real wild card in the field is Deyrann De Carjac. He’s 2-2 over fences and scalped Pym last time easily when giving him 5lbs. This form seems to have gone under the radar as Pym won really well at Ascot subsequently boosting the form. 14/1 seems a massive price for him but we are only getting 2 places with 6 runners. He just might have a surprise in him and I really like that form ahead of Pym who posted sectional times better than Cyrname around Ascot.
It’s a good race and it’s going to sort out who the top novice chasers are in the division. Champ looks the most likely winner as I question Black Op’s from. I’m hoping for a good contest but now Champ has experience over fences he should look even better today.
Sometimes in racing it comes down to head vs heart. A horse that can win vs a horse you love. For me this race is heart vs heart as Paisley Park and THISTLECRACK oppose. With Paisley Park being a short price I’ve gone looking for value and landed on the old boy.
There’s some real class in here and we have the winners of the last 4 renewals lining up. Thistlecrack won in 2015 as he announced himself on the staying hurdle scene. Unowhatimeanharry won in 2016 and 2018 showing that his old legs still carry bags of talent. Finally Beer Goggles who won in 2017 at a massive 40/1 lines up. Now by all means Paisley Park has been a revelation to this division and smashed up last season unbeaten. He looked in trouble at Cheltenham until the engine kicked in. He made up 5 places in 11 seconds to hit the front, clattered the last, regained composure and forged clear up the hill. He is clearly the star in the field but as Thistlecrack drops back to hurdles for the first time in a long time it’s interesting he’s the only runner who doesn’t shoulder the penalty for a graded win. Colin Tizzard’s 11 year old clearly still retains bags of class as he ran a blinder in the King George last season and a return to hurdles could spark further life into him. He was virtually unbeatable over the smaller obstacles so to see him getting weight all round I feel he’s worth a punt to hit the frame.
I’d hate to underestimate the old boys as Unowhatimeanharry has shown himself well winning 2 graded races in his old age. As much as I love him too he shoulders the same penalty. This race is meant to be a warm up in Thistlecrack’s bid for a tilt at the King George but I feel if he runs well he may be kept in the hurdle division to finish his career with a bang. It’s going to be some race but Thistlecrack’s class should tell and I fancy him to really push Paisley Park to his limits on seasonal return.
Finishing off Newbury’s card is a 3 mile handicap hurdle and I’ve been quite taken with DOLPHIN SQUARE this season. His form reads 1-2-1 and he showed how gritty he is after fighting off Kiltealy Briggs in his last win. He only got up by a head but rallied really well to fight for a well deserved win. The form took an immediate boost as Kilteally Briggs won his next start by a 36 lengths. It’s quite a striking boost to the form and a mark of 131 looks very workable on his handicap debut. David Maxwell has been riding his owned horses very well recently and the amateur jockey takes 3lbs off his mounts back. Going up to 3 miles looks a good choice for this one as he was staying best last time out to win.
This is a big field handicap and they can be very muddling to pick through. Favourite One For The Team finds himself as bit of a gamble as he’s been backed in from 14/1. He has form losing to a subsequent winner in Big Shark. I’m questioning the form slightly as Big Shark only won a 3 runner affair. I think the boost to Dolphin Square’s form looks stronger.
By all means there’s plenty of dangers in the field and a winner could come from virtually anywhere but Dolphin Square has some nice form and course and distance are sure to suit. He looks well handicapped and David Maxwell is riding better than ever.