NEWBURY on Saturday is being billed as ‘Super Saturday’ and it looks like it might live up to its name with the Denman Chase and the Game Spirit Chase featuring.
On top of this last season’s Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkander goes for the Betfair Hurdle, where he is a hot favourite. Ireland goes toe-to-toe on the class front with a whopping four Grade Ones at Leopardstown on Sunday.
SPRINTER SACRE is a horse I have harped on about for months now and I got on early in the Arkle ante-post market. I fully expect him to rout his opponents in the Game Spirit Chase on this, his last stop before Cheltenham. The race has been good to trainer Nicky Henderson and his winner from last year, French Opera, is also entered although the ground will dictate whether he’ll run or not. Sprinter Sacre is the top rated horse in the line up following his demolition of Peddlers Cross at Kempton. Cue Card will make the running and will put up a good fight but Sprinter Sacre is an top class and it’d be no surprise were he a multiple winner of championship races in years to come.
They say always forgive a horse one bad run and I’m happy to apply this tenet to EDUCATED EVANS (2.20 Warwick). He tipped up last time out when seeking the hatrick but had run in the most bizarre fashion. He would barely start and had to be really got after by Sam Twiston-Davies to get going. He then badly blundered at both the first two fences before being pulled up. If that was a hiccup and he runs to the form of the previous two runs I think he will give a good account of himself here.
The Betfair Hurdle is one of the most exciting races in the national hunt calendar and the Paul Nicholls trained Zarkander is the short priced ante post favourite. He looks the most obvious candidate in this two mile handicap hurdle but the value prices have now gone.
The two mile handicap hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is usually a firm pointer, and four have made the cut, Get Me out of Here and Final Approach, Soldatino and Alarazi, but all are overlooked.
Five year olds have a terrific record in the race, a pointer to the chances of EMPIRE LEVANT and THIRD INTENTION. The Colin Tizzard trained Third Intention finished nine lengths behind Zarkander in the Triumph Hurdle and has the same 9lb in receipt at official weights here. He ran well in the Greatwood at Cheltenham, before an even better second behind leading Triumph contender Ranjaan and the run should have him sport on.
Empire Levant won a handicap by 28 lengths at Taunton, hard held. He then ran two days later, and got out battled by Rock on Ruby, who went onto to finish a narrow second in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, with the third Raya Star winning the Ladbroke. He is up 12lb, but the trainer fancies his chances and he could be another with something in hand of the handicapper.
QUITO DE LA ROQUE disappointed in the Lexus, but the tough stayer still has a terrific record over fences having been placed in 12 of his 13 runs over obstacles. The eight year old is still the top rated horse in the race and conditions should suit better here. Quel Esprit and Synchronised are the alternatives but both have their flaws, can be inconsistent and have to be opposed.
2.20 (Warwick) Educated Evans
3.10 (Newbury) Sprinter Sacre (Nap)
3.45 (Newbury) Empire Levant (Ew) & Third Intention (Ew)
3.45 (Leopardstown, Sunday) Quito De La Roque (Nb)