Update: Newbury and Uttoxeter have passed inspections.
Rain, rain, go away, come back another day... that’s surely the mantra of National Hunt enthusiasts as they keep fingers crossed that two cracking cards this afternoon at Newbury and Uttoxeter have survived after early-morning course inspections.
David Pipe is one trainer who will be dearly hoping Newbury gets the green light as he is strongly represented in the £152,500 Betfair Hurdle – today’s showpiece – by Dell’ Arca, who will relish the rain-sodden conditions.
A valuable purchase from France, Dell’ Arca made a triumphant debut for Pipe when winning a competitive handicap at Cheltenham in November. He was then aimed at the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot the following month and appeared to be travelling well just behind the leading group when he unseated his rider after being badly hampered at the third last.
Horses aged five or six have won the last nine runnings of this race and Dell’ Arca, at five, fits neatly into the favoured age group. He is also still fairly unexposed and figures in the bottom half of the weights in this fiercely competitive handicap.
In a wide-open race, he makes more appeal than many, though good runs are expected from two North Yorkshire challengers in John Quinn’s Recession Proof, winner of this contest in 2011, and Brian Ellison’s Totalize.
Tony Coyle is another North Yorkshire trainer heading to Berkshire and it would be no surprise to see his Flicka Williams come up trumps in the Read Nicholls And McCain Exclusively On Betfair Handicap Hurdle.
Winner of three of his five races this season, Flicka Williams finished a highly respectable runner-up at Uttoxeter on his latest start.
He revels in the mud and should certainly not be left out of calculations from a stable which was successful earlier this week at Doncaster with Billy Cuckoo.
The Grade 2 Betfair Denman Chase is the target for Al Ferof to get back on the winning trail before next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
The Paul Nicholls-trained gelding, winner of the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his only start last season, won a two-runner race at Ascot on his reappearance this term before finishing third to stablemate Silviniaco Conti in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He can get back on top today under Daryll Jacob.
Nicholls and Jacob can also strike in the Betfair Cash Out Chase – better known as the Game Spirit Chase – with the unbeaten Dodging Bullets.
Having rattled up a hat-trick of wins this season, Dodging Bullets, a former useful hurdler, is fast developing into a top-notch performer over fences. He will be hard to beat in this Grade 2 contest.
Calipto (1.20), a useful course-and-distance winner in November, could provide Nicholls and Jacob with another winner, while Harry Fry has double prospects with unbeaten novice chaser Mendip Express (4.10) and the potentially smart bumper performer Thomas Brown (4.40), a course winner last month, who steps up to Listed level in the concluding event and is napped to emerge with flying colours.
At Warwick, the Grade 2 Star Sports Kingmaker Novices’ Chase takes pride of place.
Once again, Paul Nicholls is strongly represented by Valco De Touzaine, who, having won at Wetherby and Leicester, was denied a hat-trick of wins at Haydock in December. There is still more to come from this progressive five-year-old.
Irish raider Glens Melody was a winner on this course four weeks ago and Willie Mullins’ tough six-year-old is fancied to bag another Listed prize in the OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle.
The ultra-consistent No Buts (3.15) and last month’s Exeter winner Royal Player (4.55) are others to place on the shortlist.
1.20 Calipto, 1.50 Flicka Williams, 2.25 Al Ferof, 3.00 Dodging Bullets, 3.35 Dell’ Arca 4.10 Mendip Express, 4.40 Thomas Brown (NAP).
1.35 Tickity Bleue, 2.05 Glens Melody, 2.40 Valco De Touzaine, 3.15 No Buts, 3.50 Night Of Passion, 4.25 Midnight Prayer, 4.55 Royal Player.
Today’s other meetings: Uttoxeter, Lingfield and Wolverhampton.
Tomorrow’s meetings: Exeter and Southwell.