Harry hard to ignore for Moore hat-trick
The presence of Denman and Master Minded adds a bit of extra quality and intrigue to today's Newbury card, a programme that sees the Totesport Trophy sandwiched between the two giants' respective trials.
The two-miler, which numbers 24 runners, is undoubtedly the betting heat of the weekend.
Of the last 14 renewals of a handicap that rarely fails to deliver one of the hurdling spectacles of the year, 13 have gone to horses aged between five and seven. With just three of this afternoon's field falling outside that bracket, and the same number above the conventional cut-off point of 11st, sourcing the winner is by no means an easy task.
Nicky Henderson, who has won the race four times, has a leading chance with his progressive Cheltenham winner Spirit River, while Gary Moore, who has won the last two runnings, is also well represented by Harry Tricker. On the basis of form, that one is incredibly hard to ignore, and there's 8/1 available from at least three firms.
A week after winning at Sandown in November, Harry Tricker chased home Khyber Kim in another of the season's most prestigious handicaps, the Greatwood Hurdle. Khyber Kim has since advertised his Champion Hurdle claims by beating Celestial Halo, Medermit and Punjabi in the Boylesports International.
Medermit, which was a length behind Harry Tricker in the Greatwood, further confirmed the validity of the form by comprehensively out-pointing Punjabi in another Grade Two at Haydock.
No matter which way you cut it, that reflects well on Moore's six-year-old, which has been saved especially for this.
The handicapper has raised Harry Tricker 13lbs for his Cheltenham effort, but that is justified in light of subsequent events and, at his age, he has the scope to defy it. Significantly, the son of Hernando gets in off a very fair 10st 9lb, with the able claimer Andrew Glassonbury taking an additional three pounds off.
One that warrants each-way support is Get Me Out Of Here at 8/1 with two firms. Despite comfortably accounting for the 6/1 favourite Spirit River last time, Tony McCoy's mount is 6lbs better off with that one at today's weights, yet their prices do not reflect that reality.
Elsewhere, Henrietta Knight's The Vicar can capitalise on a bit of sympathetic handicapping in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase at Warwick. Knight's horses traditionally take a couple of runs to get match-fit, and this one's most recent effort to be fourth at Newbury was a big improvement on his seasonal debut.
Despite having also carried top-weight at Newbury, The Vicar has since gone from 133 to 130 in the ratings, which makes him hugely appealing now off 10st 6lb. Dropping back a half a mile to his favoured trip, Sam Thomas' mount looks a solid proposition at 7/1.
Also worth a look at Warwick is Home She Goes in the concluding handicap hurdle. Winner of a novices' handicap last month, Home She Goes' subsequent outing at Market Rasen, when well held in second, might initially have suggested that the 6lbs allotted her for scoring had done its job.
However, with her win coming over a sharp two miles at Huntingdon, an extra three furlongs at Market Rasen may have made Home She Goes appear more exposed than she is. The return to the minimum distance could see her get back to winning ways now, so the forecast 11/4 holds plenty appeal.
At home, Jumbo Rio gets the nod to give weight to his five opponents in the Red Mills Hurdle. Third to Solwhit on his most recent outing at Christmas, Edward O'Grady's charge is the most progressive horse in the field.
In the Red Mills Chase, J'y Vole has a lot going for her. Third to Joncol on her seasonal debut in the John Durkan Chase, the French-bred mare was out of her depth in the Lexus Chase, and today's conditions of two and a half miles in soft ground always bring out the best in her.
Best bet: Harry Tricker