Newbury 'Vieux' looks good for HobbsApplication of cheekpieces can work oracle for Johnson's mount
As was recently pointed out on social media, Paul Nicholls could win the British trainers' championship this season without having a proper Grade One horse.
What it tells us about the health of racing in Britain is hard to ascertain - perhaps nothing at all, given the many run-of-the-mill races Nicholls wins. However, after Nicky Henderson took three of the Grade Ones at the Festival, the master of Seven Barrows went favourite for the title.
Henderson's escapades saw him leapfrog Nicholls at the top of the standings and he is fancied to land his first title since 2014. Many of his top stars will travel to Aintree, which means Nicholls is vulnerable and today's action will probably not have a major influence either way.
ITV4's coverage commences at Newbury, with the Be Wiser Insurance Handicap Chase. Philip Hobbs, who had a pretty quiet Cheltenham in face of Irish domination, may provide the winner here in Vieux Lille.
This seven-year-old, reunited with stable rider and champion-elect Richard Johnson, has cheekpieces for the first time and has sound claims on his Haydock second in December on soft. Nicholls attacks this with both Warriors Tale and Ulck Du Lin. The latter has struggled for almost a year but it would be unwise to write him off entirely and he was available at 25/1 yesterday.
A measure of the problems facing racing in Britain is that the Insure With Be Wiser Handicap Chase, featuring a horse rated 147, has a winner's purse of just £12,660. This is perhaps the main reason why Irish trainers attract more owners from outside the country, with more favourable prizemoney here.
Aqua Dude has looked a well-treated horse in his novice campaign and he came up agonisingly short at Haydock last time. A 6lb rise is an annoyance but he still makes each-way appeal now.
Snow Leopardess is one to consider in the EBF & TBA Mares' NH Novices' Hurdle Finale. The utter domination of Ireland in the mares' events at Cheltenham reflects how far behind the ladies are across the Irish Sea but this grey daughter of Martaline was a useful bumper performer.
TV coverage concludes with the juvenile handicap hurdle and it must be said that the Fred Winter was bereft of strong Irish performances. Timoteo has a hood for the first time and if he settles he has a chance of getting involved at a decent price.
Kelso has a decent offering today, commencing with the Belhaven Best Handicap Hurdle, in which last year's Punchestown Festival winner Cup Final is top weight.
Cup Final may be warming up for another trip to Ireland, though he was only 9/2 when pulling up at Musselburgh on his reappearance. Teo Vivo has an edge on Sleepy Haven on course form but on different ground, and given the revised terms the Jennie Candish runner is a hopeful pick.
The popular Seeyouatmidnight is top weight in the Edinburgh Gin Handicap Hurdle, though his task is not easy on this return. The Nicky Richards-trained Isaacstown Lad is getting on in years but should be competitive. Morney Wing took a step in the right direction when fourth at Sandown recently and he is a big enough price for in the Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase.
Meydan stages its feature event, the $10m Dubai World Cup, a staggering purse. All eyes will be on American superstar Arrogate, which will go off long-odds-on and can prove a class apart.
The Tony Martin-trained Heartbreak City has settled in nicely ahead of the two-mile Gold Cup and he has a live chance. The Melbourne Cup runner-up is again ridden by Joao Moreira, his rating of 118 advertising his prospects. He is a straightforward ride.
Highland Reel can take the Sheema Classic for Aidan O'Brien under Ryan Moore. He takes on Postponed and Jack Hobbs but, in draw three, Moore can soon get handy on the globetrotter.
Highland Reel will be hard to peg back if he can get to the front.