The big race weekends continue to roll-on making this a much-anticipated time of the year for racing fans.
You can read our Hennessy Gold Cup Preview elsewhere on the course-specialist.co.uk website, but aside from the big chase, this is an exciting weekend, with the Stan James.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle taking prominence at Newcastle.
The Fighting Fifth is one of two hurdle races tomorrow featuring the return to action of JP McManus star hurdlers.
The Newcastle showpiece sees the return to action of one of last season’s most exciting novice hurdlers in My Tent Or Yours. The Nicky Henderson star was even touted as a Champion Hurdle contender after the sad death of stable mate Darlan and his own victory in the prestigious Betfair Hurdle. In the end he was sent to Cheltenham to contest the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and found Champagne Fever just too good, before hacking up at Aintree. The feeling is that he really needs to win this decisively – even though it is his seasonal debut, if he is to play a significant role in the Champion Hurdle. AP McCoy has given up other good rides including At Fishers Cross at Newbury, in order to ride My Tent Or Yours.
Melodic Rendezvous could give the likely favourite all the trouble he needs and this hugely progressive horse put together a hat-trick of wins in novice hurdles last season before injury ended his campaign. Jeremy Scott’s 7 year old may have strengthened again over the summer and was really impressive on his return at Wincanton, for which he will strip fitter. With 4 wins on the trot and race fitness, he will surely test My Tent Or Yours.
Grumeti is an interesting runner in the race and his Aintree victory in 2012 included a defeat of Countrywide Flame, this year’s Champion Hurdle third and winner of this corresponding race last year. Injury ruined his season last time around but the Alan King yard is in excellent form and Grumeti is clearly ready to run.
Cotton Mill looks held on the book and seems to have become hard to win with, falling just short of top class but good enough to feature high in the weights in any handicap.
Duke of Navan, Rock Relief and Stormy Weather have an enormous amount to find to trouble the main protagonists, while Cockney Sparrow is interesting, receiving a 7 pound sex allowance and having never finished out of the first 2 in 6 hurdles races and coming here with a recent Wetherby win under her belt.
At Bangor, there are sure to be tears and cheers and plenty of laughter as the legendary Ginger McCain is remembered in the opening novice chase. His son Donald is likely to target this race and the entries suggest this could be a well above average contest, with plenty of future winners to note.
Newbury’s Hennessy meeting continues and aside from the big race, the Bet365 Long Distance Hurdle sees the return to action of another of last season’s top novices in the JP McManus owned At Fishers Cross. The 6 year old had an amazing season after joining Rebecca Curtis in the summer of 2012, winning all 6 hurdles races. His season would have been significant as it was, having beaten The New One at Cheltenham in January, however he then won at the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree and comes into tomorrow’s race a hot favourite and a major factor in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle early market.
At the time of writing, At Fishers Cross could face 8 rivals, with Reve De Sivola likely to form the chief opposition. After chasing home Big Bucks in this race 12 months ago Reve De Sivola won Long Walk Hurdle and Cleeve Hurdle before finishing in the money in the World Hurdle and then second to Que Vega at Punchestown. Last season underlined the Reve De Sivola retains all of his old ability and he helps to set the standard here, by which At Fishers Cross will be measured.
Medinas won at the Cheltenham Festival and ran well when second to Tidal Bay at Wetherby, so comes into this race fit and from a yard in good form.
Celestial Halo showed that the old fires still burned brightly with a magnificent second to Solwhit in the World Hurdle. He disappointed at Aintree but came back to record a remarkable success in the valuable Prix La Barka at Auteiul before disappointing at the same venue in June.
The last 3 horses all come into this race with established form that will test At Fishers Cross.
Battlegroup put together a great sequence of wins last season including twice at Aintree and at Haydock. However, he was hugely disappointing in the Paddy Power Gold Cup where he pulled up and there is now a question mark against him and he reverts to hurdles here and a very high grade.
Ballyalton is unexposed but his efforts to date have been at a much lower grade and it is impossible to equate how he will get on at this exalted level. Ex-Irish Milborough looks to be out of his depth based on his form to date. His recent debut run for Tim Vaughan, when well beaten behind Thomas Crapper at Cheltenham, suggests he has an enormous amount to find. Buachaill Alainn similarly seems to need to improve enormously to figure here, although the pick of his form included a good third – albeit at a respectable distance, behind At Fishers Cross at Aintree.
Salubrious proved very progressive last season, improving his rating on every run and culminating in a victory in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle. His return run at Cheltenham behind Return Spring was encouraging however he has been beaten on both visits to Newbury and steps out of handicap class here.
Fairyhouse opens its two day meeting on Saturday, but all eyes will be focussed on a high quality card on Sunday, featuring the Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle, the Hattons Grace Hurdle and the Drinmore Novice Chase. Course-specialist.co.uk will preview this meeting on Saturday.