Five wins in seven years is an impressive record for any trainer in a handicap, so the three Paul Nicholls runners in Saturday’s Greatwood Gold Cup must be given lots of respect. But the Somerset trainer, who is in excellent form as so often at this time of year, may get worried out of the Newbury prize on this occasion by a long-absent runner from the Gary Moore yard.
Not Another Muddle (3.15) was memorably impressive at Sandown about this time last year and looked good for a long way when tried in the Grand Annual the following month. Mistakes undermined his chance that day, so this return to a flatter course may help a lot.
He is still ahead of his rating when things fall right for him. The obvious risk is the fact that he hasn’t been seen since April but he has gone well fresh in the past and odds of 12-1 provide fair compensation. Bennys King, so narrowly beaten at Ascot last time, should go close again.
1.50 Doncaster This weather is ideal for Blackjack Kentucky, who “can’t have it soft enough”, according to Nicholls. He’s been given a fair mark for this handicap debut, despite an authoritative performance at Chepstow last month.
2.05 Newbury Unseating at the 16th was a disappointing way for Horatio Hornblower to exit the veterans’ final but it may help here; unlike Dark Flame and Theatre Guide, he was spared having to slog all the way to the line at Sandown last month. Twice a winner this season, he gets a non-claiming rider for the first time since April.
2.25 Doncaster On what could be a great card for Nicholls, Dolos can follow up on his recent Sandown success, when he was giving 22lb to the runner-up, First Flow. That one has upheld the form with two wide-margin victories in the past fortnight. Gino Trail is interesting on his debut for Fergal O’Brien but is 13 now.
2.45 Kelso Calva D’Auge deserves his place after a couple of battling wins but ratings suggest he has nothing in hand on these terms with Clondaw Caitlin, who has been really impressive in a couple of mares’ hurdles. The mudlover can make her sex allowance tell.
3.00 Doncaster Clear of her rivals by 8lb on official ratings, Cill Anna is a worthy odds-on shot. Her Wincanton success last time was easily a career best, so she is going the right way.
3.35 Doncaster The fitting of blinkers has done plenty for Worthy Farm, who has won his last two races in them. It looked as though he could be a fair way ahead of his mark at Wincanton last month and a half-stone rise is reasonable. He has his quirks but may be worth chancing. Chris Cook
Henderson posts positive bulletin on Epatante
Supporters of Epatante, who was displaced as favourite for the -Champion Hurdle on Thursday following a report that she had been intermittently coughing, received a more encouraging update from Nicky Henderson on Friday night when the trainer confirmed that his mare remains “on course” for hurdling’s championship race.
“I can tell you Epatante didn’t cough today,” Henderson said after saddling Monte Cristo to win a juvenile hurdle at Newbury. That is the official line today. We are forced to say these things before somebody gets it out, and then it’s headline news. Unfortunately, we have to say it before it leaks out and it is drifting [in the betting]. You virtually have to let everyone know before she has even coughed.
“But that is what they are making you do. She has not coughed this morning and we are all on course.”
Epatante had been the clear favourite for the Champion Hurdle for two months following her impressive success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, but she is currently second-favourite with all major layers at a top-price of 9-2. Willie Mullins’s Benie Des Dieux, who has an alternative option at the Festival in the Mares’ Hurdle the same afternoon, heads the market at 3-1, while Pentland Hills, a stable companion of Epatante, is next in the betting at 5-1.
No inspections are currently planned for Saturday’s three meetings over jumps in Britain ahead of the arrival of the latest storm from the Atlantic, but the meeting at Navan in Ireland, which was due to include the Grade Three Flyingbolt Novice Chase, has been postponed with details on a rearranged date to follow. Monday’s card at Chepstow has also succumbed to waterlogging, after 25mm fell at the Welsh track up to 3pm on Friday. Greg Wood