Put trust in Denman to do the 'Trick'
Have no doubts about Denman. And do back him to win the Hennessy Gold Cup Chase (3.05) at Newbury this afternoon.
History is against the strapping chaser, which bids for a unique hat-trick in the most competitive of handicap chases, but there is something irresistible about the combination of a fresh Denman cutting loose around Newbury's galloping track.
The gelding ground down all-comers 12 months ago when giving 22lbs to What A Friend, which never stopped franking the value of that form.
And although he now races off an 8lb higher rating, he is not one to assess by routine weights and measures.
Denman put paid to a potent mix of second-season chasers last year and that brigade again provides the main opposition. All lurk towards the foot of a handicap seriously compressed by Denman's presence.
As a group, however, they lack the strength in depth of previous seasons. Many had light campaigns as a result of last winter's freeze-up and consequently lack experience.
The exception may be Pandorama, whose season was curtailed after his defeat of Weapon's Amnesty in December. As yet unexposed, Noel Meade's horse is an intriguing runner, but he is asked a searching question against seasoned opponents here. It's impossible to be confident his jumping will hold up.
The same applies to Weird Al, which returned from injury to force a dead heat with recent Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Little Josh at Carlisle. Another question surrounding this out-and-out stayer is whether he can keep tabs on the leaders when the tempo quickens in the last mile.
Of the others, Diamond Harry's jumping is suspect, Silver By Nature would prefer softer ground and Burton Point doesn't appeal as the type to relish an end-to-end gallop.
Carruthers has each-way claims, but Denman, whom Paul Nicholls reports to be in rude health, is the one to beat. His moods have been well documented, but he is more than capable of defying the handicapper.
Big Buck's prospects just too strong to oppose
Denman's Hennessy hat-trick attempt is one of several mouthwatering highlights on a Newbury card featuring the reappearance of dual World Hurdle hero Big Buck's and Champion Hurdle winner Binocular, which clashes with last term's leading novice Peddlers Cross.
Big Buck's and Binocular are both expected to start at odds-on, and of the two, Big Buck's is infinitely the safer proposition. It was only in the Champion itself that Binocular showed his mettle in a campaign that had disappointed to that point.
Moreover, Peddlers Cross and the vastly improved Nearby are sterner opponents than anything aligned against Big Buck's. Although this column studiously avoids tipping odds-on shots, the sport should be fascinating nonetheless.
From a betting perspective, Denman stands out. But an interest is warranted on Rustarix in the sportingbet.com Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase (12.55) over an extended three miles.
Several of Alan King's horses are well handicapped as a result of the trainer's tribulations last term, and Rustarix looked one of them when he won a similar race under today's pilot at Cheltenham recently.
Victory came after a lacklustre sequence that saw the nine-year-old drop down the weights, and while the handicapper has raised him 4lbs, he still runs from a lower official rating than he established as a novice.
The sportingbet.com Handicap Chase (3.40) is a real tease, featuring the first three home in the corresponding race 12 months ago. On that occasion Mount Oscar caught Pasco on the run-in, but preference today is for Piraya, which finished third.
Although not the most robust horse in training, Piraya shaped well when runner-up in a competitive Ascot two-miler earlier this month. That race also marked a drop back in trip for the selection after some fruitless attempts at three miles-plus. Now returned to two and a half miles, he looks sure to go well.
The Intermediate Hurdle (2.0) is another trappy race for punters. Interest is likely to gravitate towards Tocca Ferro, which travelled supremely well in victory at Ascot last month. In the end, however, the progressive five-year-old only just scrambled home and Advisor is preferred.
From a strong hand, Advisor was the Nicholls stable's selected for the Triumph Hurdle, in which he failed to make an impact. His subsequent run, when tailed off at Ayr, was too bad to be true and he can resume the winning thread after his summer's break.
Nicholls must think plenty of him to bring him back in such a competitive event.