SOME of National Hunt racing’s biggest stars will be putting the finishing touches to their Cheltenham preparations at Newbury tomorrow.
Altior was unbeaten in all six starts over fences last season and looks set to make his eagerly awaited return in the Betfair Exchange Chase (3.00pm), as long as the weather doesn’t deteriorate.
Nicky Henderson’s eight-year-old will be looking to win the prize for a second year running and it will be intriguing to see how he gets on post his recent wind operation.
He can be backed at a best-priced 10/11 to make a winning return, but in Politologue and Fox Norton he faces some useful race-fit opposition, so a watching brief is advised.
The same must also be said for last year’s Hennessy Gold Cup winner Native River, who also has his first run of the campaign in the Betfair Denman Chase (2.25pm).
Like Altior, he is looking to win the race for a second year on the trot but at just 4/6 with Coral, he is one to watch too.
Final declarations won’t be out until later this morning, but Saphir Du Rheu is a good horse on his day, while Cloudy Dream could hold a fitness edge.
Earlier on the card, look out for BARTERS HILL who could return in the 3m handicap hurdle (1.50pm) off what may well be a lenient mark.
Ben Pauling’s yard has been in flying form this week and this eightyear- old has been ready to run for a while.
He was injured on his chasing debut well over a year ago, but was formerly a very smart hurdler.
Sent off just 4/1 for the 2016 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, the previously unbeaten hurdler finished a respectable fourth behind Unowhatimeanharry.
He ran off a mark of 150 that day, so he could be thrown in off 142 with the 8lb reduction due to his enforced layoff.
Admittedly, this isn’t going to be easy, but he still has an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival and he’d need to be winning this to have any chance of lining up in that.
The 8/1 generally available looks a decent each-way bet against the likely favourite Noble Robin who is chasing a hat-trick.
In the novices’ handicap chase (4.10pm), I think Henderson’s REIGNING SUPREME can bounce back following his spill in a decent handicap at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Although not travelling like the winner at the time, he was running a reasonable race.
He’s always been a horse the yard has really liked and I’m convinced that he is well-handicapped off just 134.
If you’re planning to go to a Cheltenham Festival Preview, don’t miss out on the Racing Breaks one on Tuesday 6th March at M Bar, 2-3, Threadneedle Street.
The panel includes champion jockey Richard Johnson, trainer Charlie Longsdon, ITV’s Mick Fitzgerald, Luke Tarr from Star Sports and myself.
We’ll be on hand to talk you through all the key races and give you our best bets for this year’s extravaganza.
General admission is £10 with a free pint of Guinness, while a guaranteed seat at a table with steak, chips and a pint of the black stuff is just £25.
To book tickets, contact Olivia on 020 7157 1576.
Barters Hill e/w 1.50pm Newbury
Reigning Supreme 4.10pm Newbury