Aye, aye Captains
Alex Hammond tips Captain Chris for Gold Cup success and Captain Conan for glory at Sandown this weekend.
Last Updated: 05/01/12 12:21pm
We enjoyed some fantastic racing over the Christmas and New Year period with the undoubted highlight King Kauto winning an historic fifth King George.
He is now 4/1 for the Gold Cup with Sky Bet and if he turns up in the same sort of form, he will take all the beating. It was great to see him jump superbly on his last two outings and although he has been prone to blunders in the past, he has been foot perfect of late.
The connections of Long Run are going to try something different and one of the steps they are going to take is to ditch his earplugs. He is 5/2 favourite to repeat his win in 2011. Grand Crus is third favourite for the Blue Riband at 8/1 and Synchronised is 12/1 after his win in the Lexus Chase.
Captain Chris is the most interesting at the prices at the moment; he is 14/1 but has a bit to prove. We should see him soon as his options are the Argento Chase at Cheltenham on January 28, the AON Chase at Newbury (now the Betfair Denman Chase) in February -where he could meet Long Run - and the Ascot Chase.
Binocular staked his claim for more Champion Hurdle honours in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton (10/1 with Sky Bet). He held off a determined challenge from Rock On Ruby. The latter wasn't fluent when he needed to be, though, and that could have cost him.
However, it was great to see Binocular showing his ability. I fancy Zarkandar, though, an 8/1 chance. I can't wait to see this horse make his reappearance and he has been the subject of positive reports from Paul Nicholls.
The novice chasing division looks incredibly strong over both two and three miles. Grand Crus remains unbeaten over fences after his win in the Feltham. He's now 2/1 with Sky Bet for the RSA Chase, as well as being a leading contender for the Gold Cup.
The Feltham isn't normally a good trial for the RSA, but if this grey lines up in the novices' race at Cheltenham he could change those stats. In the two- mile sphere, Peddlers Cross had to settle for second behind Sprinter Sacre, who impressed in winning the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase the day after Boxing Day. Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty were gushing about Sprinter Sacre after the win and he is an incredibly exciting prospect.
I was pleased to see Cue Card get back to winning ways at Newbury on New Year's Eve, not least because he's in my 10 to follow list! It won't be easy for him in the Arkle - for which he is now 10/1 - with the likes of Sprinter Sacre (9/4), Al Ferof (5/1) and Peddlers Cross (6/1) to take on. However, he may not have to face Al Ferof.
It has emerged Paul Nicholls' smart grey could take on established two-mile stars in the Champion Chase. His Cheltenham target is dependent on how he fares in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot later this month. The Champion Chase doesn't look desperately strong, despite former winners topping the betting and it will be interesting to see how he gets on against the likes of leading two-miler Finian's Rainbow.
Fingal Bay maintained his unbeaten record in the Challow Hurdle and is favourite for both the Albert Bartlett and Neptune Novices' Hurdles. Can Oscar Whisky mount a serious challenge to Big Buck's? Well he shouldn't beat him in the World Hurdle, but he's 11/2 if you fancy him and that's not a bad each-way price.
There were plenty of pointers for the future at Leopardstown over Christmas, too. Big Zeb is 4/1 second favourite for the Champion Chase after his win in the Dial-a-Bet Chase. He won the Champion Chase in 2010 and was second to Sizing Europe last year - the reigning champ is 5/2 to repeat the performance. Voler la Vedette added another decent price to her haul this season with a win in the Christmas Hurdle to follow up her win in the Morgiana - she is now 10/1 for the World Hurdle and 4/1 second favourite for the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle.
Another girl took centre stage for a top hurdling prize. Unaccompanied beat Thousand Stars in the Festival Hurdle and she is now 5/1 for the David Nicholson and 10/1 for the Champion, which I believe is her target should all go well with her. However, it's the Irish Champion next for her in a month's time.
This weekend there is some decent action to look forward to at both Sandown and Wincanton with the feature the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown. This Grade One Novices' Hurdle only received five initial entries on Monday, but the race was reopened and attracted a bigger field of nine on Tuesday for the two-mile contest. Prospect Wells is the highest rated in the field for Paul Nicholls. He stepped out of novice company last time out when he ran very well to finish fourth in the Ladbroke Hurdle. He is currently 12/1 with Sky Bet for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Prospect Wells faces some tough opposition, though, with the likes of the Philip Hobbs-trained Colour Squadron and Nicky Henderson's unknown quantity Captain Conan. Colour Squadron beat Montbazon at Newbury last month, while Captain Conan will have his first run for Henderson, who sounds confident of a big run.
He said this week that you won't have heard of him nor seen him, but you most probably will on Saturday. The reason we haven't seen anything of him is because he has done all his racing in France, where he had three starts winning over hurdles at Auteuil on his final start in June. Henderson has his horses in outstanding form at the moment and it may be worth taking a chance on the unexposed French import.
I'll be keeping an eye out to see if Wymott runs in the three-mile Handicap Chase at Sandown. I was impressed with his reappearance run in the Hennessy and tipped him up at Haydock last time out, but he pulled up in the Tommy Whittle on desperate ground so I'm going to forgive him that.
He likes some cut but it takes a certain type of horse to relish ground as testing as that, and I hope he can get back to winning ways this weekend.
Captain Conan in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown
Wymott in the three-mile Handicap Chase at Sandown
Zarkandar in the Champion Hurdle @ 8/1 with Sky Bet
Captain Chris in the Gold Cup @ 14/1 with Sky Bet (each way)