Inside track: It can be Seventh heaven for Sky
Mann's booking of Geraghty could tip balance in Newbury heat
Sound Investment and Saint Raph vie for the market lead from either end of the weight scale in the Greatwood Gold Cup.
Paul Nicholls has won the Newbury handicap six times in the last nine years, and Sound Investment will strive to add to the champion trainer's prolific feature race haul this term by making it seven from 10 under top weight.
Sam Twiston-Davies' mount has begun to look a little exposed on his last couple of starts, so he doesn't appeal. At similar odds of around 11/2, the bottom weight Saint Raph has more going for him. With just three starts to his name over fences, Robert Walford's charge has more scope to improve. He won the second of those by a wide margin at Wincanton, albeit he would have won by less had the favourite Atlantic Roller not exited late.
An 11lb hike might not be enough to stop Saint Raph, but this is competitive. As a son of Saint Des Saints, it is no surprise to see that his two wins have come on deep ground, and it might not be quite deep enough at Newbury to disadvantage others. While he has an each-way chance, Seventh Sky is a more attractive option at 10/1.
Charlie Mann has booked Barry Geraghty for the ride, which is something that rarely happens and is an obvious plus for the horse's chance. An eight-year-old son of King's Best, Seventh Sky has basically been progressive since he began his chasing career last summer.
In 12 starts, he has won four, been second four times and third once, possessing a 13lb higher mark when scooting up in novice company at Musselburgh on February 1 than he had done in a Plumpton handicap in October.
Off a further seven-pound higher rating of 145 on his most recent start at Plumpton, Seventh Sky again ran a blinder, finishing a fine second to the unexposed Traffic Fluide, a horse with Cheltenham on its agenda. Crucially, in contrast to his previous two wins over two-and-a-half miles, that effort came over two miles, so this return to his optimum trip could prove critical.
As well as that, the handicapper has dropped Seventh Sky three pounds for his efforts, which seems very fair given the way that he has been progressing and that he did little wrong in the circumstances at Plumpton. The chief concern for him coming here is that this is his third run in a month.
However, he is apparently a gross horse that thrives on racing, so that might even turn out to be a bonus. At Doncaster, Davy Russell has some good rides, with Golan Road for Tallow-based Michael Griffin interesting in the mares' race.
The six-year-old won nicely over an inadequate trip at Leopardstown in January, so the step up to three miles here should suit ideally.
Willie Mullins will be a formidable proposition for the leading trainer's award at the Cheltenham Festival.
Interestingly, Betfair have a market without the champion trainer in their Sportsbook, and one offering in particular catches the eye. Gordon Elliott, who has averaged a winner a year at the past four Festivals, is 14/1 with the exchange to win or come second to Mullins.
Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson will have bigger teams, but Elliott is a shrewd operator. He will saddle around 15 carefully selected runners, with the likes of Don Cossack, Noble Endeavour, Cause Of Causes, Clarcam, No More Heroes, Jetstream Jack, General Principle and The Game Changer all contenders to varying degrees. His odds seem pretty generous.