Newbury’s Betfair hurdle is just about the strongest handicap hurdle in the calendar, and invariably stacked with Cheltenham clues. This year’s edition looks about as cryptic as ever, but with one essential clue….
The favourite is the useful mare Irish Roe. Her effort in giving a fright to top mare Maria’s Benefit at Doncaster has earned her an 11lb rise in the weights that does not apply to this early closing race. As such she should be thrown in. Donny translates well to this course, and she is a mare we like, but reading mares-only form in a small field across to this event is potentially fraught with danger. She is the one to beat, but that’s what we hope to do.
Trainer Nicky Henderson has an excellent record in this race, which would be a big help if he wasn’t saddling five legitimate contenders. Jenkins is shortest priced and is 3lbs well-in plus he gets a 3lb allowance for getting teenage kicks all through the fight from boy wonder James Bowen.
Kayf Grace gets stable jockey Nico de Boinville up top which indicates some confidence, whilst Lough Derg Spirit should run well, and bless you if you are still following Charlie Parcs over the cliff.
The Henderson move that really catches our eye is tempting Irish champion jockey elect Davy Russell over from the Naas card for essentially this ride. We think Davy is riding like a genius at the moment, we have never seen him with such confidence, and his ability to relax a horse and get it jumping sweetly is just a joy to watch.
In the mare Verdana Blue he has a companion who reportedly works superbly, and has at times shown that on the track when race tactics have worked out. She needs holding up and a strong pace, which she should get here, and in Davy she has just the man to play the stealthy game and play a late but winning hand.
Of the rest we will have Cheltenham eyes on Project Bluebook, who probably needs better ground, and Blue Et Rouge for whom an extra half mile looks the key.
Recommendation: Verdana Blue, (1535 Newbury), 2pts win, 12/1 generally available
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