Paul Fer­gu­son looks at the main events com­ing up over the next few weeks

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Paul Fer­gu­son looks at De­cem­ber’s ac­tion

Two-time Cham­pion Hur­dle win­ner BUVEUR D’AIR is fan­cied to make a win­ning re­turn to ac­tion up at New­cas­tle on Sat­ur­day 1st De­cem­ber, in the Grade 1 Fight­ing Fifth Hur­dle, a race he won in a can­ter 12 months ago.

Nicky Hen­der­son’s seven-year-old re­mains a slightly un­der­es­ti­mated cham­pion by many, but I be­lieve he won his sec­ond Cham­pion Hur­dle de­spite not be­ing at his best in March and think there is still more to come. Sent off at pro­hib­i­tive odds last year, there is ev­ery chance that he will face much stiffer op­po­si­tion this time around, with Supreme Novices’ Hur­dle win­ner Sum­merville Boy pen­cilled in for the jour­ney north, too.

He won the fes­ti­val opener de­spite mak­ing a mess of the last two flights – which high­lights the nat­u­ral abil­ity he must pos­sess – but it also high­lights that hur­dling wasn’t his best as­set last year and he will cer­tainly need to jump a lot more flu­ently now he en­ters open com­pany.

Hav­ing missed the Mor­giana Hur­dle re­cently due to quick ground, it could be that we also see last sea­son’s Bal­ly­more win­ner Sam­cro head­ing over from Ire­land. It would be fas­ci­nat­ing to see these three lock horns so early in the sea­son and, fol­low­ing his de­feat at Down Royal on reap­pear­ance, the six-year-old also has a lit­tle to prove at this level. Plenty has been writ­ten about that per­for­mance and, in light of Shar­jah (fin­ished 3rd) com­ing out and win­ning the afore­men­tioned Mor­giana, the form looks a tad stronger. He was con­ced­ing weight to a cou­ple of race fit ri­vals and at a time when some of Gor­don El­liott’s horses were need­ing the run, so he could step for­ward con­sid­er­ably. He will need to, how­ever, if go­ing head-to-head with the Buveur D’Air. On this oc­ca­sion, I would have to take proven form over the po­ten­tial of the sec­ond-sea­son hur­dlers.

The win­ner of that WKD Hur­dle at Down Royal Be­drock also holds an en­try here and he is clearly on an up­ward curve. He showed a fine turn of foot on his last two out­ings and wouldn’t mind de­cent ground, should the rain not ar­rive. He was ac­tu­ally sold to race in Amer­ica af­ter his Down Royal win (deal done the day be­fore, ap­par­ently) and, at the time of writ­ing, it isn’t known for cer­tain if his new own­ers will con­sider an­other race or two in Bri­tain be­fore head­ing across the At­lantic. The fact that he has been given an en­try here sug­gests that it is a po­ten­tial op­tion.

Down at New­bury on the same day, I would be in­ter­ested in Al Boum Photo if al­lowed to take his chance in the Lad­brokes Tro­phy, al­though with Thistle­crack ex­pected to run at Hay­dock whilst this fea­ture goes to press, I sus­pect his par­tic­i­pa­tion is in some doubt – I’m not sure Wil­lie Mullins would want him to carry a big weight (could ac­tu­ally end up with top-weight) on his first start out of novice com­pany, al­though I don’t be­lieve his mark to be beyond him. He is, of course, fa­mous for run­ning out at Punchestown in April, but he had ear­lier de­vel­oped into a smart novice chaser and there wouldn’t have been much be­tween him and cur­rent mar­ket leader El­e­gant Es­cape in the RSA, had he not fallen.

At the cur­rent prices (16-1) he makes some each-way ap­peal, but I would want to wait for con­fir­ma­tion that he will be aimed at the race, be­fore back­ing him per­son­ally. By the time you read this, we will prob­a­bly know one way or an­other. The other one I like at the cur­rent prices (also 16-1) is Ms Par­fois who also holds an en­try in the Betfair Chase at Hay­dock the week be­fore and in the Becher at Ain­tree, the fol­low­ing week­end. Given the cur­rent weather, I would be sur­prised if she were al­lowed to take her chance in the Betfair and, from a mark of 146, this race would make much more sense, in my opin­ion. A thor­ough stayer, a soft ground ‘Hen­nessy’ over an ex­tended 3m2f would be right up her street and she would get in here off a nice low weight. Again, if the ground doesn’t come right for her, she could be one for the Welsh Grand Na­tional over Christ­mas and is cer­tainly a mare to keep on side in these stay­ing hand­i­caps.

Go­ing back to El­e­gant Es­cape briefly, he picked up a 4lb penalty for win­ning an in­ter­me­di­ate chase at Sandown re­cently, but hav­ing that run un­der his belt could well be ad­van­ta­geous. This doesn’t ac­tu­ally look the strong­est of re­newals (at early en­try stage) and should the pair I like not line up, it would ap­pear even weaker. He would have ob­vi­ous claims, al­though he won’t be a much shorter price come the day. Again, the longer trip and likely softer ground would be in his favour and he would be an­other Welsh Na­tional pos­si­ble af­ter­wards.

An­other Colin Tiz­zard in­mate to note at the meet­ing would be Lostin­trans­la­tion, who was beaten on his chase de­but at the last New­bury fix­ture by War­ren Greatrex’s smart mare La Bague Au Roi. He went through the race en­thu­si­as­ti­cally and jumped well on de­but, look­ing a nat­u­ral, but didn’t truly see out the ex­tended 2m6f trip. There­fore, drop­ping back to 2m4f would suit and I would think con­nec­tions will prob­a­bly aim him at the Grade 2 Berk­shire Novices’ Chase on the first day of the meet­ing (Fri­day 30th Novem­ber). He won the maiden hur­dle on this card 12 months ago, hav­ing fin­ished run­ner-up at the pre­vi­ous meet­ing, so the gal­lop­ing track clearly suits this im­pos­ing six-year-old.

The same week­end (Sun­day 2nd De­cem­ber) Fairy­house stages a trio of Grade 1 events, in­clud­ing the Hat­ton’s Grace Hur­dle, a race which Ap­ple’s Jade has won for the past two sea­sons. Gor­don El­liott’s six-year-old wasn’t quite at her best in the spring (when in sea­son) but re­turned with a com­fort­able vic­tory over Jezki at Na­van re­cently. With that run un­der her belt, she might just hold the edge on what­ever Wil­lie Mullins throws at the race, and can join both Lime­stone Lad and So­le­rina on three wins in the race.

Of the po­ten­tial op­po­si­tion, Cham­pion Hur­dle sec­ond Melon would be the most in­ter­est­ing, al­though at the time of writ­ing his par­tic­i­pa­tion is prob­a­bly in some doubt, hav­ing just missed a po­ten­tial en­gage­ment in the Mor­giana af­ter re­port­edly dis­ap­point­ing in his work. He re­mains un­ex­posed over hur- dles af­ter just eight starts and is sure to be a force in this di­vi­sion once again, al­though be­ing so keen, I’m not sure 2m4f first time out would be ideal.

It’s back to Chel­tenham dur­ing the mid­dle week­end of the month, when the fea­ture hand­i­cap on the Sat­ur­day (15th) is the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup, run over 2m5f on the New course. The slightly longer trip on this more de­mand­ing track would be a slight con­cern, but Rather Be was trav­el­ling omi­nously well when be­ing brought down in the Bet Vic­tor Gold Cup re­cently and would be one for any short­list. Nicky Hen­der­son’s lightly-raced seven-year-old de­serves a change of luck at the track, hav­ing been nut­ted on the line at last sea­son’s fes­ti­val and he was a sec­ond-flight ca­su­alty in the 2017 Martin Pipe, when again be­ing badly ham­pered. He has a big race in him off his cur­rent mark, al­though he is at his best on a de­cent sur­face, so con­nec­tions will be hop­ing that the rain con­tin­ues to stay away. If the ground goes against him, he might be one to keep in the back of our minds for a hand­i­cap in the spring.

Sta­ble-mate Might Bite will (al­most cer­tainly) have run in the Betfair Chase at Hay­dock by the time you read this and, as­sum­ing noth­ing goes wrong there, he is likely to be the one to beat once again in the King Ge­orge on Box­ing Day. An­other who is at his best on a de­cent sur­face, the track at Hay­dock should be right up his street and we know how ef­fec­tive he can be around Kemp­ton.

One to keep an eye on in the north in the com­ing weeks is Nicky Richards’ Un­cle Alas­tair, who was a use­ful novice hur­dler last sea­son and ran a blinder on his re­cent chase de­but up at Carlisle. I was there that day and both him and Vin­ndi­ca­tion – who is also likely to be out again soon – pulled well clear of an­other nice prospect (Eux­ton Lane) and the run­ner-up shouldn’t re­main a maiden over fences for long. He made Kim Bai­ley’s un­beaten five-year-old pull out all the stops and he will rel­ish tack­ling a bit fur­ther (in time) on soft ground. He has a good record at Ayr – form reads 1F113 – so don’t be sur­prised to see him head­ing back up to Scot­land at some point and he looks to have a bright fu­ture over fences.

Cham­pion Hur­dle win­ner Buveur d'Air (Barry Ger­aghty)

Sam­cro (Jack Kennedy) win­ning the Bal­ly­more Hur­dle

RSA Novices Chase win­ner Might Bite (Nic de Boinville

Lostin­trans­la­tion (Rob­bie Power) wins the 2m Maiden Hur­dle

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