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First Lieutenant ticks all boxes to plunder spoils for Morris

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First Lieutenant and Davy Russell pull away from the pack on their way to winning at Cheltenham in 2011

First Lieutenant and Davy Russell pull away from the pack on their way to winning at Cheltenham in 2011

Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE

First Lieutenant and Davy Russell pull away from the pack on their way to winning at Cheltenham in 2011

WHILE he had only one winner from six in 2013, as a general rule it is always worth considering backing Paul Nicholls-trained horses when they race in Ireland.

Looking back over the longer term, he's had 23 winners from 58 races (40pc) since 2003 and, had you stuck a tenner on each, you'd be richer to the tune of €216.

The strike-rate is even better for those that were ridden by former first jockey Ruby Walsh (62pc) and there's sure to be plenty of interest as the potent pair combine for the first time since November with Tidal Bay (3/1) in tomorrow's Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown.

The gelding proved he still retains plenty of ability when staying on for third in the Welsh National in late December in what turned out to be a proper stamina test on heavy ground.

But it may not be quite so testing at Leopardstown and you'd have to question whether he can still cut it at Grade One level at the age of 13.

Beef Or Salmon won this race as an 11-year-old in 2007 and Florida Pearl tasted success in 2004 aged 12.

Generally speaking, however, older horses have struggled over the years and it would take an exceptional performance from Tidal Bay if he's to get home in front of his six rivals.

At 2/1, Mouse Morris' First Lieutenant ticks the right boxes. He was no match for Bobs Worth in the Lexus Chase here at the Christmas Festival, but he jumped soundly in the main and certainly wasn't disgraced in second place at 7/1.

He appears to be coming back to form and deserves his place at the top of the market.

Provided the course survives a 7.0 inspection this morning, Nicholls' Dodging Bullets looks the one to beat in the Game Spirit Chase this afternoon at Newbury (3.0).

However, he's quite short in the betting at 10/11 and preference is for the Tom George-trained Module, generally available at 3/1. Following a good career over hurdles, Dodging Bullets has completed a hat-trick over fences although, having watched those races again, I'm not 100pc convinced he's good enough to win the Arkle at Cheltenham, for which he's priced 6/1.

While he's certainly progressive, it's yet to be seen how he'll handle the type of heavy ground he'll get today and, until I see him race a bit more, I just can't bring myself to back him odds-on. Module won a novices' chase at this course back in December 2012 and has since gone on to success on testing ground at Leicester.

He also ran a cracker when finishing a head behind Somersby in the Haldon Gold Cup Chase at Exeter in November 2013 on his first start out of novice company.

On that occasion, the in-running punters backed him right down to 1/2 but he just fell short on the day. Admittedly, his fourth place from seven in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon last time was a step backwards, but a possible excuse is that he made a mistake two-out from which he never really recovered.

Each-way

The Brian Ellison-trained Totalize looks nicely handicapped for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury (3.35).

Aged just five, he put in a career-best performance when second to Nicholls' Lac Fontana in a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham two weeks ago off a mark of 129.

The assessor has put him up 5lbs for his efforts but because the Betfair Hurdle was an early closing race, Totalize will run off his old mark of 129 today, which effectively means he's a few pounds well in. He loves the mud and offers plenty each-way value at 16/1.

Selections

Today

2.25 Newbury: Al Ferof

2.40 Warwick: Balder Success

3.0 Newbury: Module

3.35 Newbury: Totalize (e/w)

Tomorrow

3.50 Leopardstown: First Lieutenant

Soccer

ARSENAL beat Liverpool 2-0 back in early November. That was the last match in which the Reds failed to score and they've managed to find the back of the net in 16 matches since in all competitions.

Considering that the Gunners have also been firing the goals home consistently this term, the 8/15 on both teams to score at Anfield this afternoon should be a straight-forward earner for punters.

Racing

NOVEMBER'S Cheltenham Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase winner Al Ferof is a confident selection in the Grade Two Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury (2.25), priced around 11/8. He's got a few options for the Cheltenham Festival and this should prove informative as he takes on the likes of Katenko and Harry Topper.

While he'd prefer better ground, the talented grey's got 12lbs in hand on official ratings and all going well today, he's likely to be seen next in the Gold Cup for which he trades around 12/1.

Irish Independent