By Charlie McCann
The first day of Newbury’s flagship Hennessy meeting is today’s highlight although Un De Sceaux also makes his eagerly-awaited chase debut at Thurles for Willie Mullins.
The opening Novices’ Hurdle should be a welcome winner for the returning AP McCoy who rides this month’s impressive Exeter scorer Jollyallan (12.25) for Harry Fry. Opposition is thin on the ground and it is a very disappointing turn out for what is usually a most informative and competitive heat invariably won by a useful animal.
Ruapehu improved after a wind operation back in the spring to win two staying handicaps on good ground the last off a mark 19lbs lower than today. He goes well fresh but his ability to handle the forecast soft ground is a concern and Itoldyou (1.00) gets the vote for Linda Jewell. The selection has been raised 1lb for finishing runner up at Fontwell last time (form figures 112 at the track) and looks a thorough stayer who won’t be inconvenienced by underfoot conditions. Anything Philip Hobbs saddles warrants a second look at this moment in time and top-weight Woodford County looks an obvious danger if his recent fall at Sandown has not knocked his confidence.
Vazaro Delafayette is blinkered for the first time and, unsurprisingly, improved for the switch to handicaps last time when third off this mark at Wincanton on fast ground last time. He was beaten out of sight on his sole start on soft ground but is open to significant improvement and a market move would be worth noting.
Preference, however, is for Spookydooky (1.35) who suggested on a couple of occasions last season that he might improve when sent handicapping and an opening mark of 112 looks workable. There may be only seven runners going to post but this is a tight contest with Flying Bandit also unexposed and open to significant improvement.
Southfield Theatre will appreciate stepping up in trip and looks to maintain his unbeaten record in the Grade 2 Novices’ Chase but he must give 7lbs to Carraig Mor (2.10) in what is virtually a match with the Alan King-trained runner getting the vote. The selection jumped well in the main when runner up to Carole’s Destrier at Exeter on his reappearance and this former winning point-to-pointer can get his career back on track in what has to be said is a very disappointing turn out for a decent prize.
Paul Nicholls is looking for a hat-trick of wins in the Novices’ Handicap Chase with Ceasar Milan but he has a bit to prove on his chase debut and my two against the field are Gentleman Jon and Liberty One (2.45) with marginal preference for the latter. The selection is a multiple p-t-p winner who ran well on his chase debut under rules and this slight drop back in trip will suit. None of the eight due to go to post can be discounted and I’m sure this race will throw up plenty of future winners.
Willie Mullins brings over two for the feature race on the card the Gerry Fielden but this can go to top-weight Le Mercurey (3.15) despite the fact that he must give weight away all-round. The selection won two of three starts in France and fell when travelling well in the second when L’Ami Serge was in opposition. The latter makes his debut for Nicky Henderson this afternoon and the Lambourn handler has saddled the winner of this corresponding event three times in the last eight years.
At Taunton Cody Wyoming (1.45) can race from the same mark as when runner up at Ludlow last month and the booking of Jason Maguire would suggest connections are confident of a bold show.
More of the Mullins big guns are out at Thurles with the unbeaten Un De Sceaux, currently 4/1 for the Arkle at BetVictor, making his chase debut in the opener. This horse looked very good over timber and is a very exciting prospect.
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