Yanworth can show Champion class
McManus-owned hurdler looks tailor-made for major assault on Cheltenham feature next month
Yanworth is my idea of the winner of the Stan James Champion Hurdle and he should advertise his credentials in today's Grade Two Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.
Racing returns to 3e today and TV3 will be hoping that it goes a little smoother than its initial offering on New Year's Day. Alan King will be aiming for smoothness too in the performance of Yanworth.
The son of Norse Dancer was at one stage considered a more likely runner in the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle than in the Champion; that changed after his victory in the Christmas Hurdle, a race very much run to suit. Note another top JP McManus-owned hurdler, Jezki, has been backed for the Stayers Hurdle in recent days.
Yanworth was a shade of odds-on in wagering yesterday. Sceau Royal was put in second-favourite, returning to the scene of his ready victory in November.
Yanworth's jumping has been questioned occasionally. It will be intriguing to see how slick he is today and victory might well see him emerge as favourite for the first day's big race in Cheltenham 2017.
"He needs to jump better than he did at Kempton," Barry Geraghty said yesterday, adding: "He battled well and he did not have much experience for a race like that. Sceau Royal could be the danger."
Irving ran a shocker at Haydock and is rather difficult to catch right. It is hard to see why Ch'Tibello should get involved: his Kempton effort was possibly a career-best yet he was utterly brushed aside by Yanworth.
Grade One combat takes place at Ascot, with Cue Card a red-hot favourite in the Betfair Ascot Chase. He is now certain to go to the Timico Gold Cup, having been taken out of the Ryanair.
Cue Card is the most likely winner but everything has a price and Taquin Du Seuil is perhaps a more appealing alternative. He does not have a huge amount on ratings to find, the trip and ground will suit and he may get Cue Card on an off-day. He did not give the impression he was at his best in the King George and he is getting on in years.
Taquin Du Seuil has never run at Ascot before. The distance in the Lexus probably stretched him a little last time but he was certainly not disgraced.
Ratings suggest that the Grade Two Sodexo Reynoldstown Novices' Chase ought to be a tight affair. Nicky Henderson is seeking a fourth win in the race this decade, though Laurium has a bit to prove after a heavy Cheltenham beating in early December.
More consistent is Yanworth's stable ally, Label Des Obeaux. Running in the Rooster Booster colours, he was rewarded for his consistency with a win in a minor race at Ludlow, and he may improve on his modest win percentage under Wayne Hutchinson.
Flintham, put in as the outsider of the field, is not hopeless for the stable of Coneygree. It is worth recalling he was sent off just 7/2 behind Native River - no less - at Exeter last season.
Aidan Coleman's mount, Go Conquer, has been put in favourite in the Keltbray Swinley Chase but the attritional three miles may leave the son of Arcadio gasping for air in the closing stages.
It is hard to believe that O'Faolains Boy is now a 10-year-old. It is nearly three years since his Cheltenham Festival win over Smad Place, since which time he has been restricted to six runs, pulled up in two of them and heavily beaten in two more. Plenty must be taken on trust.
Tenor Nivernais, which is probably best when he can be let on with things in attack, is 10 years of age too. At around 8/1, he merits a little each-way support.
It might pay to give Krugermac another chance in the Les Ambassadeurs Casino Handicap Hurdle. Off for over a year, he ran no sort of race at Sandown last month, and Gary Moore attaches a visor now. He is plainly something of a handicap certainty on his Irish bumper form and, despite his somewhat chequered career, the mount of Jamie Moore retains time as an ally.
At Haydock, three horses dominate the wagering in the Betfred Rendlesham Hurdle. These rivals would have been equine fodder for Zarkander at his peak, which he looked nowhere near in either of his last two starts. He has been hurdling since his juvenile days and that his form is tapering off is hardly surprising.
The hardy Agrapart is put forward under Lizzie Kelly, though the fact she cannot claim 5lb is hardly a positive. He is gutsy, solid and probably still progressing.
The Grand National Trial will be of interest at the conclusion of a week when there never seemed to be as much talk about Aintree weights. Life as a senior chaser has not been especially easy for Blaklion - Native River has clearly passed him out - but he is as reliable as ever and probably the one to beat despite top weight.
Houblon Des Obeaux at 12/1 is also worth considering each-way. If he can stay in touch coming into the straight, few will finish stronger.