IN JUST over four weeks time the curtain will be raised for the greatest four days of National Hunt racing.
This time of year is like the run up to Christmas for racing fans and there is plenty to whet the appetite at Newbury tomorrow.
Any day Altior runs is a good day and it’s going to be fascinating to see if he can bounce back in the Betfair Exchange Chase (2.25pm) following his defeat to Cyrname in November.
Previously unbeaten in 14 starts over fences, he is one of the all-time greats and simply cannot be opposed.
If there is one horse in the field who could cause a shock, it’s probably Dynamite Dollars, but this is his first start in over a year and he could just need it.
The Champion Chase is shaping up to be one of the races of the Festival with Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi taking on the reigning champion.
Altior has been there and done it, and I fully expect him to land tomorrow’s prize before attempting to win his third straight Champion Chase, although he’s not really a backable price.
The stars are out in force in Berkshire and Native River is going to be another short-priced favourite in the Denman Chase (3.00pm).
Ladbrokes offer 2/7 about Colin Tizzard’s charge which shows how likely he is to land this prize for a third time following his victories in 2017 and 2018.
He is normally Richard Johnson’s ride, but with the champion jockey suffering a broken arm last month Jonjo O’Neill Jr gets the leg up.
The 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner looked back to his best at Aintree last time and he is a class above his rivals in this.
I’m sure some punters will do the short-priced double, but it’s all about the Betfair Hurdle (3.35pm) for me.
Not So Sleepy was a very impressive winner of the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot in December and he will net connections a £100k bonus if he can follow up in this, plus £87k for winning.
Hughie Morrison’s eight-year-old has to be greatly respected, but he got a 17lb hike in the weights for that success which is going to be hard to overcome.
Mack The Man, like Not So Sleepy, has won his last two and he is surely well-handicapped off a mark of 130.
Evan Williams’ horses are in great form so there’s very little not to like, but he’s been strongly supported all week and looks a shade short now at just 5/1.
My first selection is THEBANNERKINGREBEL who was just touched off in the Grade Two bumper at Aintree last April.
He has looked good over hurdles this campaign and travelled like the best horse in the race in the Rossington Main at Haydock last month.
A 5lb penalty made life tricky for him there but he has 9lb pull with the winner Stolen Silver now which should be enough to turn the form around.
Novices have a very good record in this race and Jamie Snowden’s inmate looks a decent each-way proposition at 8/1 with Coral.
With a maximum field of 24 set to go to post, I want to have a couple of strings to my bow and WHOSHOTTHESHERIFF looks overpriced at 33/1 with Ladbrokes.
Phil Kirby has had an excellent season and notched a double at Sedgefield on Tuesday, so his string remain in great form.
This son of Dylan Thomas ran very well when second to Bold Plan at Haydock two starts back and I don’t think he enjoyed the heavy ground when fifth to Not So Sleepy in the aforementioned Ascot race.
He is better than that and tomorrow’s ground will be more suitable so have a shop around as I’m sure a couple of bookmakers will be offering six places in this.
Thebannerkingrebel e/w 3.35pm Newbury
Whoshotthesheriff e/w 3.35pm Newbury