A handful of star performers lay down their Cheltenham claims this weekend including Gold Cup hope NATIVE RIVER, who lines up as a big odds-on favourite in the Grade Two Denman Chase at Newbury.
First run in 2000, the 3m chase is always a hotly-contested encounter and over the years has provided plenty of clues ahead of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Four horses have won this race before going onto land the Festival’s headline race that same season – Kauto Star (2007), Denman (2008), Coneygree (2015) and NATIVE RIVER (2018).
The contest was originally sponsored by the Aon Group, but in 2012 betting exchange Betfair took over the sponsorship mantle, and in the process also renamed the race the ‘Denman Chase’ in honour of the 2008 winner.
Since 2000, leading National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls has won the race nine times, while if you like your trends it’s worth noting that seven of the last 13 winners of the Denman Chase were aged seven – backed up again in 2019 with the Paul Nicholls-trained Clan Des Obeaux winning as a seven-year-old.
ALTIOR has been the outstanding two miler of his generation and is one of the other top attractions at Newbury in the Game Spirit Chase, but you are not going to get rich backing either of these who look to have straightforward tasks at the Berkshire track tomorrow (Saturday). The value might rest with a fresh DYNAMITE DOLLARS, who is the only one in the field with untapped potential.
Glamorgan handler Evan Williams faces a quandary over ground preferences but is still hoping to run both his Betfair Hurdle contenders at Newbury.
Williams saddles well-backed ante-post favourite MACK THE MAN and another lightly-raced improver in QUOI DE NEUF.
He intends to give both the chance to prove themselves but admits the complicating factor is likely ground conditions – currently described as good to soft, with a dry week forecast until a possible return of rain on raceday.
But Valentine’s Day could come early for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who is chasing a fourth win in this valuable handicap hurdle.
SIR VALENTINE never looked like catching favourite NOT SO SLEEPY at Ascot last December but looks great each way value at 20/1 with Dewsbury’s leading bookmaker Carrigill’s.
Drying conditions will suit Harry Whittington’s BIGMARTRE in the Warwick Castle Handicap Chase and he’s another one to consider for making the frame at odds of 20/1, but preference is for Philip Hobbs’s gelding GALA BALL.
This consistent performer has gone up just 2lbs after getting the better of Le Rocher at Wincanton last month and will be no Cinderella come Saturday (tomorrow).
Bingley trainer Sue Smith had a fruitful January and can build on that success at Uttoxeter tomorrow (Saturday) with course- and distance-winner INFORMATEUR and WHAT’S THE SCOOP, who finally got off the mark when dropped back in trip to 2m4f at Newcastle recently.
ACCLAIM THE NATION went too hard from the get-go in a warm 5f handicap at Wolverhampton last time out and can make amends over the same trip tomorrow night (Saturday 7.30).
Carrigill’s nap: (money back as a free bet if it finishes outside top four. Write Augur on your slip to qualify):
GALA BALL, Warwick, Saturday, 3.15.
Augur’s best bet:
ACCLAIM THE NATION (e/w), Wolverhampton, Saturday, 7.30.