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Benvolio can leave Whisky cold


Daryl Jacob riding Benvolio

Daryl Jacob riding Benvolio

Daryl Jacob riding Benvolio

The loss of Sandown's hurdle races today has denied us the opportunity to get a real handle on Un De Sceaux's capabilities ahead of his Champion Hurdle bid in March.

Willie Mullins' relentless front-runner will probably now be rerouted to his original target of the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park on February 15, when the opposition is unlikely to include anything of Melodic Rendezvous' quality.

Sandown, which must still pass a 7.45am inspection, is left with a revised all-chase card that is spearheaded by the three-runner Grade One Scilly Isles Novices' Chase over two-and-a-half miles.

Oscar Whisky is the star name on duty. Having been beaten in a muddling affair at Cheltenham on his fencing bow in November, Barry Geraghty's dual Aintree Hurdle hero has progressed steadily to win twice in the Cotswolds since, gaining revenge on his November conqueror Taquin De Seuil with a degree of authority last time.

He is a worthy favourite, but whether he is a legitimate 4/9 shot is another thing altogether. At nine years of age, he could be vulnerable to an improver and the sort of out-and-out slog that he is guaranteed if racing goes ahead, has never been his forte.

Alan King saddles Manyriverstocross, which shouldn't be good enough, despite the old adage about backing the outsider of three.

Paul Nicholls, who hasn't won the race since completing four-in-a-row in 2009, relies on Benvolio this time.

Winner of its last two starts over flights this time last year, Benvolio tipped up at the first on his fencing bow in November, but he has since knuckled down to win twice.

Over three miles at Newbury in December, he exploited his hurdle handicap mark to score with a bit to spare, and then dropped back to two-five at Haydock.

In the sort of deep ground that he is sure to encounter here, Daryl Jacob's mount fenced fluently and again responded brilliantly for pressure having cut out the early running. He was conceding weight to his closest rivals and, while the bare form is nothing special, it was a performance that confirmed he is on a steady upward curve.

As a seven-year-old son of the top-class sire Beneficial, Benvolio is sure to keep progressing now at this discipline.

Possibly most importantly in the context of today's conditions, his style of running means that he has the potential to serve it up to Oscar Whisky from the off, and he certainly won't be stopping coming up the hill.

At 3/1, he is value to bridge the 14lb gap in the ratings with Oscar Whisky.

Nicholls' Aintree Grand Sefton victor Rebel Rebellion is also fancied in the Betfred 'Goals Galore' Handicap Chase.

A real mud-lover, the nine-year-old has won his last two starts here, sluicing up in a 2011 novice hurdle before also running away with a decent novices' chase in deep ground over this two-mile trip last March.

He excels over large fences, and showed he is versatile by winning over a longer trip in first-time cheek pieces at Aintree, when Ryan Mahon's inability to change his whip hand late on nearly cost him dearly.

Mahon keeps the ride ahead of Jacob now, and the suspicion is that a 7lb hike in the ratings won't stop his mount from winning again at the Esher track.

At Wetherby, which is also subject to an early inspection, the one that stands out is the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Shutthefrontdoor.

Best Bet: Shutthefrontdoor

Irish Independent