Welcome to our latest column from Scott Armstrong of The Sportsman tipster service.
Each Friday, Scott provides us with a rundown of all the best weekend racing action – including the key horses to follow and those to oppose. You can also find a recap from him each Monday on the SBC Blog with his reaction to the weekend’s events. Thorough, frank and not afraid to take a contrary view, Scott Armstrong is a racing man whose opinion you can’t afford to be without.
Saturday witnesses one of the best races in the National Hunt calendar, The Hennessy Gold Cup over three-mile-two-furlongs at Haydock while at Newcastle the Fighting Fifth pays welcome to the return of Nicky Henderson’s Binocular.
Other equine stars running at the weekend are Big Bucks in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and Peddlers Cross in a novice chase at Bangor though short prices will be the order of the day for those two.
Aiteenthirtythree with Ruby Walsh on board is shading market favouritism for the Hennessy at 11-2 in front of Great Endeavour and Wymott. The Hennessy has been a long term aim for Paul Nicholls’ charge and the Master of Ditcheat has a fine record in the race having won the event three times in the last ten years. Aiteenthirtythree has a great record at the Newbury track, successful on the last two occasions he has run there and will love the strong pace. Pin-fired after his final outing last term the concern at the price on offer is the seven-year-old has largely been winning in small fields and this race will be a different kettle of fish with eighteen horses set to go to post.
Second favourite is David Pipe’s Great Endeavour at 13-2. The seven-year-old gelding has taken rank as one of the top two and a half mile chasers following his win in the Paddy Power. The question is will he last home with his trainer himself saying “3m 2f might be a bit far”. The speed he showed in the aforementioned Paddy Power at Cheltenham is a worry over the longer distance yet his best run over hurdles came over the 3m 2f trip at Cheltenham in 2009 when third in a Listed event. I’m inclined to risk Great Endeavour having the engine to last out stamina wise and back him to obtain the big-race double.
Wymott is third in the layers lists priced at 7-1. Donald McCain proved with Wierd Al in the Charlie Hall last month that he can ready a horse after a break. A sound jumper, the seven-year-old put up a listless race in the RSA Chase in March making several jumping errors though subsequently was found to have suffered an injury. That performance has led the handicapper to drop him to what looks an attractive mark. An exciting progressive novice chaser, Wymott is capable of going close though has shown a tendency to idle during races which is a concern with the new whip rules in place.
Michel Le Bon is an interesting horse from the Nicholls’ yard. The eight-year-old gelding hasn’t run for over two years but won well on his only start over fences and has the requisite stamina for the trip. Michel Le Bon has always been highly regarded in the Nicholls yard, looks to be well handicapped and should prove progressive. The big negative is his lack of experience.
Wayward Prince from the Ian Williams yard has been the midweek market mover being cut to 8-1. A smashing third in the RSA Chase in March, the seven-year-old has been laid out for this race. Versatile on different ground conditions he arrives with a good racing weight. Wayward Prince runs best fresh and is a genuine horse who will be staying on when other horses have thrown in the towel. He can however be a difficult ride and his jumping let him down when fourth to Quito de La Roque in the Mildmay Novices Chase in April. Ian Williams record at Newbury does not make inspiring reading either with 0 winners from 27 runners since the 2007-08 season.
The winner of last season’s Scottish National – Beshabar is worthy of a few quid for next year’s Grand National and that’s the problem with this race as he will have Aintree as his long term aim.
Irish raider Muirhead may hold each-way claims but there is doubt over his stamina. You would also have to excuse his last run at Ascot where he was very poor.
Sarando’s jumping can be a hit or a miss and there is little room for error in winning a Hennessy.
Planet Of Sound has run to a mark of 163 yet competes on Saturday on 158. A pleasing seasonal reappearance when third in the Betfair Chase he likes the Newbury track having won his last two chase contests at the course. Philip Hobbs’ horses are in fine form and with a breathing operation having taken place a big run would be no surprise.
Of those at bigger prices, I like Carruthers. Mark Bradstock’s charge ran a race full of gusto in defeat to Galaxy Rock at Cheltenham when burdened with 11st 7lb. Carruthers is a vigorous front runner and is on a decent mark if able to reproduce his previous best efforts. The downside is he won’t be able to dominate the big field the way he has in races with fewer runners.
Great Endeavour would be my selection against the field.
At Newcastle the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle takes centre stage though looks a weaker renewal than recent years.
Binocular comes into the race as a 5-6 favourite and the statistics say he has every chance of winning with six of the last eleven horses at the head of the market obliging.
Binocular had a nightmare season last term with two below-par performances at Aintree and Punchestown but Nicky Henderson’s team are in great form presently and if Binocular puts his best foot forward he will be very hard to beat. Binocular was in need of his reappearance in last year’s Fighting Fifth and with apprehension regarding this race being another pipe-opener I’d rather try to take him on at the price.
Overturn and Celestial Halo are vying for second-favouritism and my preference would be for Paul Nicholls’ leggy gelding. Celestial Halo has proven himself a top-class hurdler having won the 2008 Triumph Hurlde and was also a close second to Punjabi in the 2009 Champion Hurdle. Winner of a Class 1 hurdle on his seasonal reappearance at Wincanton when Grandouet fell, Celestial Halo should be in peak condition for this race.
Overturn brought home the bacon last week when winning the Coral Hurdle and can’t be ruled out, but racing in top company twice in seven-days will be tough even for this admirable performer.
Scott’s service is one of the many racing and sporting tipsters that we monitor and recommend at the Smart Betting Club.