Big Buck’s and Hurricane Fly head a blockbuster cast of equine stars on what will be a hugely informative weekend’s racing with all roads leading to the Cheltenham festival. Many reputations will be enhanced, some will fall and festival prices will be shifting faster than the FTSE 100.
Big Buck’s is unopposable in Cheltenham’s Cleeve Hurdle (3.40) as he bids for his 15th consecutive victory en-route to landing a record-breaking fourth World Hurdle in March at the festival. Tony McCoy summed it up when he pronounced “This horse is a machine, a beast”. Simply watch and savour this legend at work.
The Grade 2 Argento Chase at 2.35 is a very open affair with the Pipe team having elected to withdraw ante-post favourite Grands Crus from the contest.
The race will be run at a relentless gallop and the pressure is on Phillip Hobbs’ charge Captain Chris to prove himself worthy of a Gold Cup appointment. Winner of last year’s Arkle Captain Chris was third behind Kauto Star and Long Run in the King George VI Chase on his first start at 3m and is set to go up another furlong and half in trip in the Argento. There has to be a doubt regarding his stamina but the eight-year old remains open to progression and would be my suggestion at current odds of 11-4 with Coral and Bet365.
At Doncaster the major contest is the Skybet Chase but my interest lies in the 1.50 where Arkle favourite Sprinter Sacre faces-off against fifth favourite in the Arkle – Menorah in the Grade 2 Novices’ Chase. Nicky Henderson’s Sprinter Sacre shot to the head of the layers Arkle lists from 10-1 to 5-2 after routing the top chase prospect Peddlers Cross in a Grade 2 at Kempton. A rangy gelding, Sprinter Sacre shows no fear over the larger obstacles, attacking them with relish and he will be hard to catch. Menorah is a very smart prospect over fences but hasn’t shown the same enthusiasm with his jumping, erring on the side of being cautious.
In the 3.25 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle horses such as Ballyrock, Super Duty and Gullinbursti all hold strong claims but Lovcen from the Alan King yard would be the one for my money. Connections think the world of Lovcen and he powered home over 2m5f at Towcester when last seen on track in November with the suggestion Saturday’s 3m would be his optimum trip.
On Sunday all eyes will be on 2011 Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly’s return to the track at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Having suffered a setback late last year he comes into the race against decent opposition in the form of star mare Unaccompanied and the trustworthy Thousand Stars. A lack of match fitness may prove difficult for Hurriance Fly but he is hard to oppose. Rather than taking the 4-7 on offer, snap up some of the 15-8 and 7-4 on Hurricane Fly to make it a second Champion Hurdle title in a row.
A less heralded horse shouldn’t be allowed to slip under your radar in Sedgefield’s Class 6 bumper at 4.20 – Hurraboru from the Donald McCain team. The five-year old ran green when winning a Class 6 bumper at Uttoxeter on December 31st last year, hanging left on the run-in and will undoubtedly improve from his first racecourse experience.