What a Saturday we have in store with some fantastic racing from both Newbury and Newcastle, where last season’s Champion Hurdle winner Epatante makes here seasonal reappearance.

Nick Luck has cast his eye over it all for us.

3.00pm Newbury

BLACK OP is a Grade One horse when he puts it all together and, from a handicap mark that underestimates his talent, can win Newbury’s feature (3.00pm) that is competitive, but not filled with horses of the very highest calibre. A Grade One winner over hurdles, he ran one of his best races at this track last season behind Champ, many people’s idea of a likely Gold Cup winner this time, before running another creditable race in the Kauto Star at Kempton. His fourth to Imperial Aura at Carlisle will have put him spot on for this, and – provided his occasionally sketchy jumping doesn’t let him down – he should go very well at 17/2 on ground that will suit.

TWO FOR GOLD is almost certain to run well. This trip may be the limit of his stamina, but his form over nearly three miles bears the closest of scrutiny, he’s a bold jumper, and a generous pace pusher – just the type that runs well in this. He might just lack the class of the selection, but I’d be very confident he’ll at least hit the frame at 10/1.

VINNDICATION (6/1) is Two For Gold’s apparently better fancied stablemate and is probably championship class granted the right conditions. My slight concern is that this ground is likely to be livelier than ideal for him, but he remains unexposed and has already proven he can cut it in hurly burly handicaps off a big weight.

CLOTH CAP is a lightweight that I find intriguing at 10/1. I suspect that he will be more aggressively ridden than when an eyecatcher on his seasonal debut, and connections sensibly withdrew him from his intended engagement at Cheltenham when the ground became very soft. A good test of stamina on good ground always brings out his best, and cheekpieces may squeeze a few more drops from him from a yard that remains in good form.

POTTERMAN is the other lightweight I can see going well at 16/1. He is a light framed horse who is probably not well suited to anything too gruelling, but he’s still on the upgrade, is a strong traveller and ran a fine trial for this in the Badger Beer at Wincanton.

Nick Luck’s 1-2-3-4-5:

  1. Black Op
  2. Two For Gold
  3. Vinndication
  4. Cloth Cap
  5. Potterman

Rest of Newbury 

RATHHILL, another one of a Henderson pair, is a risky-but-tempting proposition in the handicap hurdle (1.50pm) at 10/1. A very smart novice two years ago when sent off favourite for the Tolworth, he has been a blow out since. Two breathing operations later, however, he reappears off a very handy mark, while everything about his pedigree screams good ground.

FLORESSA is a sporting selection at 17/2 to frighten her better fancied stablemate and fellow mare Marie’s Rock in the Gerry Fielden (2.25pm). She never really had the rub of the green last year, often having to race on unsuitably soft ground and was most unlucky not to beat the very smart Lady Buttons at that mare’s beloved Doncaster. To my eye, that makes her well treated here with conditions absolutely perfect.


EPATANTE will not make you rich in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle (2.05pm), but she impressed in her racecourse gallop with Altior the other day and should still win nicely at 4/5. I cannot believe, however, that she will be subjected to an unduly hard race (and Sceau Royal will travel well for a long way) and William Hill’s offer of victory by around three lengths looks about right to me.

WHATMORE ran a terrific race in defeat at Ascot behind Regal Encore and can make amends in the Rehearsal Chase (3.15pm). Although he has been nudged up by the handicapper, he is now contesting a slightly less competitive race under ideal conditions. He is not entirely straightforward, but remains progressive at 4/1.

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