Nicholls' revitalised Mr Mole to see off Sire De Grugy
According to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul (formerly known as Saul) was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus to persecute some Christians, as was his wont.
But somewhere along the way, he fell from his horse and underwent a dramatic conversion to Christianity, having seen a flash of light and heard the voice of Jesus. Thereafter, Saul was a changed man.
While not quite a transformation of biblical proportions, the Paul Nicholls trained Mr Mole is certainly a reformed character too, having once been described by Tony McCoy as being a horse which "isn't a trier". The JP McManus owned gelding has now won his last three races, and the front-running, aggressive tactics which have been employed more lately have worked an absolute treat.
The seven-year-old is back in action for today's Betfair sponsored Game Spirit Chase at Newbury (3.0) although he'll have to be on his absolute best behaviour if he's to see off Gary Moore's Sire De Grugy, which makes a welcome return to racing having missed the best part of a year due to a hip injury.
On all known form, Sire De Grugy would easily have Mr Mole's measure but he's opposable at 4/5, considering Moore's comments that there's still some work to be done and the gelding will come on for the run. In Sprinter Sacre's absence, the Champion Chase winner totally dominated this division before being sidelined and in any other circumstances, he'd be considered the banker of the day.
Even though Moore expressed delight with Sire De Grugy's recent piece of work and feels the horse is fit enough to "do himself justice", I just don't think that's quite enough positivity to warrant a decent sized bet at the prices.
With Paul Nicholls' horses in fine fettle these days, Mr Mole (11/4) is the obvious one to take on the jolly with. As mentioned, he was a quirky, almost lazy sort in the past and you'd never really know what to expect when you'd back him - but it looks like Nicholls has finally figured him out. Basically, he needs to bowl along in front to stay out of trouble as we saw last time when he put Brick Red to the sword in a recent handicap chase at Sandown.
Shortly afterwards in the Betfair Hurdle (3.35), On Tour gets a tentative vote each-way, priced in the region of 14/1. Evan Williams' seven-year-old is now on a hat-trick of wins, the most recent being a very strong handicap at Haydock in which he overcame a 9lb rise in the weights to land the spoils ahead of the likes of Morito Du Berlais and Dawalan.
The form of that race has worked out very well with Dawalan winning twice since, and a number of others have also put in some subsequent strong performances. Despite a further rise in the weights to 138, I suspect he's still a couple of pounds ahead of the handicapper.
Paul Nicholls' Calipto has strong claims based on last season's form, but he was beaten at 4/5 in a minor event at Cheltenham last time and 9/2 in a 29-runner field makes little appeal. He's still something of an unknown quantity and almost certainly would have finished better than fourth in the Triumph Hurdle had his stirrup leather not broke, but he was later beaten at Aintree and has some questions to answer.
Early odds of 7/1 seem more than fair for the David Barron trained Money Team in this afternoon's nine-runner Unibet handicap at Lingfield (3.45).
He kept on well when fifth to Boom The Groom in a good quality handicap here in early January, and a drop in the weights to 85 gives him a realistic chance of going close.
2.25 Newbury: Houblon Des Obeaux
3.0 Newbury: Mr Mole
3.10 Lingfield: Razor Wind
3.35 Newbury: On Tour (e/w)
3.45 Lingfield: Money Team (e/w)