IT was nice to finally be back amongst the winners last week and I hope you managed to snap up some of the 15/2 available about Menorah early on Sunday morning. Long Run was a little disappointing in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but all those who followed our each-way tip on Poquelin were in the money if they backed Paul Nicholls’ charge at 20/1 with the sponsors who paid down to fifth place.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s action and it won’t be the last time this season we focus on the Paul Nicholls camp in our search for the winner of the feature contest. The Champion trainer saddles the Sir Alex Ferguson-owned WHAT A FRIEND in the Betfair Chase (3.25pm) and the seven-year-old looks decent value at 7/2 with Paddy Power to defeat Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander in the £200,000 contest.
Our selection was last seen in action at Aintree last term winning the Totesport Bowl, having won the Lexus Chase in Ireland on his previous start. The youngster is quickly rising to the very top of the chasing tree and he could well be Ditcheat’s main Gold Cup hope come March.
Last year’s painfully unlucky runner-up Imperial Commander will be a very tough nut to crack and his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has reported him to be in rude health. However, he is currently trading at as short as 4/6 and, even though he is the most likely winner, there may not be as much between him and What A Friend as the betting would suggest.
Elsewhere on Haydock’s card, I like the look of CLERK’S CHOICE in the 1.50pm. He absolutely bolted up at Cheltenham last time and is now quoted as short as 25/1 for the Champion Hurdle. He comes from Michael Banks’ small stable of just six horses, but don’t let that put you off. He demolished the well-regarded Royal Mix by 21 lengths last time and could be top class.
JAMES DE VASSY looks very interesting in the 2.50pm handicap hurdle for Nick Williams. The stable is in fine fettle, he goes on all types of ground and has won on his reappearance in the last two seasons. Another who goes well fresh is Charlie Longsdon’s PALYPSO DE CREEK (2.20pm) and he ran a stormer to finish second to Our Vic in the Peter Marsh Chase here last season. He fell late on in the Grand National when beaten, but this is more his level and he is still relatively unexposed.
Over at Ascot, MASTER MINDED should have too much speed and class for Albertas Run over 2m3f in the Amlin 1965 Chase at 2.05pm. It may just be that he needs an extra couple of furlongs these days and he could end up going for the Ryanair at the Festival. However, the best bet at the Berkshire track tomorrow is ZAYNAR in the Coral Ascot Hurdle at 2.35pm. He won this race easily last year and although he has to give weight to the majority of his rivals, I expect him to win again.
Finally, Alan King’s yard is absolutely flying at present and his MILLE CHIEF looks like an each-way bet to nothing in this afternoon’s 3.55pm at Ascot. His trainer thinks he could be Champion Hurdle class, but the problem is that he’s taking on Aegean Dawn who was hugely impressive at Cheltenham last Friday and is due to go up 21lb in the future. However, Mille Chief would have needed the run on his reappearance at Aintree and will strip much fitter today.
Newbury’s fantastic three-day Winter Festival kicks off on Thursday and I’ll be there on Gentlemen’s Day on Friday. Denman goes for an unprecedented third Hennessy win on the Saturday, but I’ll hold off on my tips for the big race until next week.
MILLE CHIEF e/w 3.55pm Ascot (today)
CLERK’S CHOICE 1.50pm Haydock (tomorrow)
MASTER MINDED 2.05pm Ascot (tomorrow)
PALYPSO DE CREEK e/w 2.20pm Haydock (tomorrow)
ZAYNAR 2.35pm Ascot (tomorrow)
JAMES DE VASSY e/w 2.50pm Haydock (tomorrow)
WHAT A FRIEND 3.25pm Haydock (tomorrow)