Sadly this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree failed to sparkle in a pre-race gallop and has been ruled out of tomorrow’s Hennessy Gold Cup (3.00pm).
That leaves World Hurdle runner-up Saphir Du Rheu at the head of the weights and the market at just 7/2 with Betway.
Paul Nicholls has never made any secret about the high-regard in which he holds the horse.
However, he will need to have all the mix of Denman and Kauto Star that the trainer talks of to carry top weight to victory.
Only Trabolgan, Burrough Hill Lad and Denman himself have shouldered as much weight since the days of Arkle, which shows what a tough task he faces tomorrow.
Previous winner Bobs Worth bounced back to form in a farcical hurdle race at Aintree last time and looks thrown in off a handicap mark of just 153.
He was rated 180 at his best but was beaten by over 50 lengths in his last chase start and the jury is still out at just 6/1.
Smad Place’s chances are obvious, particularly with the prep race under his belt that he badly missed when slightly disappointing 12 months ago.
He looked a rock-solid each-way bet at 12/1 a few weeks ago but, at half those odds now, the value has gone.
If In Doubt is well-handicapped, but is another plenty short enough for such a sketchy jumper, while Fingal Bay has the class, but can burst blood vessels as he did last year.
That leaves THE YOUNG MASTER, who climbed up the chasing ranks at a rapid rate of knots last season, and may not have finished progressing.
His wins at Cheltenham, Wincanton – where he was disqualified – and Ascot at the backend of last year were followed by a disappointing run in the RSA Chase at the Festival.
I’m inclined to forgive him that blip as he appeared to lose his race when getting upset in the preliminaries.
He had a decent blow out behind Saphir Du Rheu at Carlisle earlier this month and, even though he was readily put in his place, he re-opposes tomorrow on 9lb better terms.
In fact, that becomes 12lb when you consider Sam Waley-Cohen’s useful 3lb claim and he appeals as the value call each-way at 10/1 with Betway.
The big race up at Newcastle is the Fighting Fifth Hurdle (2.05pm) with seven set to line-up.
Irving and Top Notch both make quick reappearances after their run at Haydock last Saturday, but I’m happy to oppose them.
Although Irving has looked a reformed horse this term, he’s had two pretty tough races in a short spell of time, while Top Notch will have to step up again on last week.
Ruby Walsh travels over to partner WICKLOW BRAVE and that has to be a tip in itself.
This son of Beat Hollow has been on the go all summer, performing very well on the flat, but it was his run behind Nichols Canyon and Faugheen last time that screamed ‘improver’.
He can put his flat speed to good use on this track and should be backed at 7/4 with Betway.
Venetia Williams continues to fire in the winners and I like the look of SHANGANI in the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase (1.15pm) if he takes up his entry.
The nine-year-old is undeniably well-handicapped and ran a great race at Taunton on his reappearance when the ground was too quick for him.