Fine Parchment to give Charlie Mann back-to-back wins in the Greatwood

SPORT TRADER BILL ESDAILE AND DAVID WILD WITH THE WEEKEND’S BEST RACING AND RUGBY BETS

THE calm before the storm will be how the next 10 days are referred to by countless racing people as owners, trainers, jockeys and punters nervously pray that their horses get to Cheltenham in one piece. There have been a number of high profile withdrawals in the past week and we just have to hope that the remaining leading contenders make it.

It’s Greatwood day at Newbury tomorrow and the big race is the Greatwood Gold Cup at 3.10pm. Paul Nicholls holds a strong hand with Aerial, Pasco and Woolcombe Folly and this is a race the trainer likes to target having won three of the last four renewals.

Aerial, the mount of Ruby Walsh, is easily the least exposed of the trio, but I was disappointed with his run at Cheltenham last time and he is opposable at what is likely to be a short price. Pasco hasn’t won for two years, while Woolcombe Folly carries top weight and has been poor lately.

Charlie Mann won this race 12 months ago with FINE PARCHMENT and they must have a big chance of landing the prize again. The nine-year-old has struggled so far this season, but there have been excuses for his defeats and Newbury seems to suit him well.

He is only 3lb higher than when successful last year and with promising 10lb claimer Gavin Sheehan on board, he’s actually 4lb better off. This looks as though it’s been the target before another crack at the Topham and Mann’s horses are running really well at the moment.

Another who appeals down the bottom of the weights is Gary Moore’s FIX THE RIB and he is worth an each-way saver. He isn’t easy to win with, but his last run at Kempton was more promising and he’s on an attractive looking mark.

Araldur and Dave’s Dream both have the talent to win this, but one who grabs me more is the giant Mad Max. Formerly trained by Nicky Henderson, he is now in the care of Neil Mulholland and will love the decent ground. He’s also three from three at Newbury and will be very interesting if the money comes.

Nicky Henderson is normally the man to be feared in the Triumph Hurdle, but by his own admission, his juvenile team looks a little weaker this year. The one who appears to be at the top of the pecking order at Seven Barrows is LYVIUS and he takes his chance in the opener at Newbury (1.50pm) this afternoon. He made an impressive British debut at Kelso last month and is expected to win this before having a crack at the Triumph.

The weights for the handicaps at this year’s Cheltenham Festival were unveiled earlier this week and there are certainly a couple worth adding to our ante-post portfolio.

First up, in the ultra-competitive JLT Specialty Handicap on the opening day, I like the look of Nick Gifford’s

TULLAMORE DEW at 20/1 with Coral. Now, the history book tells us that it pays to side with a horse with previous Cheltenham Festival experience and our selection has been placed in his two different assignments at both the last two meetings.

He finished a gallant second to Spirit River in the 2010 Coral Cup and finished third 12 months ago to Divers in the Centenary Novices’ Chase. The trip will play to his strengths and he only just failed to reel in Massini’s Maguire on his latest start at Ascot. Tullamore Dew looks sure to put up a bold display and following the recent death of his trainer’s legendary father, there won’t be a more emotional winner than a Nick Gifford-trained horse.

With very little rain forecast, the horse I was looking to side with in the Byrne Group Plate was the Ferdy Murphy-trained Divers who did us such a favour last year. However, his price collapsed yesterday on the back of the news that AP McCoy will be in the saddle, so I’m not going to dive in at 10/1, as he might not be that much shorter on the day.

The other horse that catches my eye in the race is Paul Nicholls’ CRACK AWAY JACK who I think has been laid out for the race. He is another one with an excellent Festival record having won the Fred Winter in 2008 and finished fourth in the following year’s Champion Hurdle.

He was a well-backed disappointment at the Paddy Power meeting, but picked up a nasty cut that day. He reappeared over hurdles at Ascot last month, which would have blown all the cobwebs away. I’ve got a sneaky feeling his trainer reckons he’s extremely well-handicapped and there is no way he will start at the 12/1 currently on offer with Blue Square, particularly with a certain Ruby Walsh in the saddle!

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