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Horse racing tips: Jonny Ward’s best bets for Saturday’s cards

W

e are only a week and a half off the Cheltenham Festival, with Newbury’s seven-race offering this afternoon very much whetting the hunger for some top-class jumps action to come.

Gone are the days when Paul Nicholls might reasonably target the top-trainer gong in the Cotswolds, the Irish having begun to dominate there, but his record in today’s feature BetVictor Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Chase (1.50), a contest that has been run since 2004, is sensational: he has won it a sensational nine times.

It is no surprise to see Nicholls have the classiest animals in these big handicaps and he has the highest-rated runners in Capeland, and Grand Sancy, potential favourite. However, we’re going to the bottom of the weights to find the winner in Russian Doyen.

Betfair Sportsbook goes 18-1 the Jeremy Scott-trained charge, who is interesting on a couple of levels. Trainer Scott recently enjoyed Grade 1 success and he’s having a happier time of it this season than Colin Tizzard, who trained The Russian Doyen until quite recently.

Tizzard’s strike-rate this season has nosedived to nine per cent, so perhaps Scott can revive the eight-year-old, who ran an excellent race over hurdles as recently as October, his mark having come down 9lb since he was placed behind Gold Cup fancy A Plus Tard two years ago at Cheltenham.

Tizzard has realistic prospects in the veterans’ chase (1.15) in the form of West Approach. The Nicholls-trained Present Man’s flop at Warwick in November was blamed on it having come too soon after a much better effort at Wincanton and, perhaps wisely, Nicholls has kept him fresh for this, with Bryony Frost in the plate.

The good ground will be key to the chance of Hasanabad in the BetVictor Handicap Hurdle (2.30). He wears a tongue tie here, which might explain away how little he found on the all-weather last time, and given his ability on the Flat, Ian Williams’ charge could be very well-treated in theory.

Frost and Nicholls should take the novices’ chase (2.40) with Hitman, while at Doncaster, stablemate Getaway Trump may suffer for dropping back in trip in the Virgin Bet Handicap Chase (2.55), with Ballywood interesting after a wind operation for Alan King.

In the mares’ novice hurdle (2.20), Global Harmony might be worth another chance, having gotten bogged down on heavy ground at Taunton. Dan Skelton continues in terrific form. Betfair goes 10-1 the daughter of Flemensfirth.


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