It may require something of a leap of faith to side with Coneygree in the Ladbrokes Trophy, but those that stick with the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero can be richly rewarded at Newbury.
Mark Bradstock’s 10-year-old certainly has plenty of obstacles to surmount if he is to claim this Grade Three prize, not least the likes of the unexposed American and Willie Mullins’ favourite Total Recall. But Coneygree is a class act on his day – as shown at the 2015 Festival – and while things have not always gone his way, he is more than capable when given a chance.
Limited to just two starts last term, he can be forgiven for a laboured second behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase and is much better judged on his cracking third behind Sizing John at Punchestown back in April.
His return in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby was something of a damp squib as he was pulled up after suffering an overreach, but the racecourse outing will have at least got his mind back on the game.
The Bradstock team have long had this event in their sights and must be thrilled to see the ground is still on the better side as Coneygree now really seems to sparkle on good going. Top weight is far from ideal, but Coneygree has dropped a few pounds from his career high of 172 and that may just hand him the edge when push comes to shove.
Buveur D’Air will be going off a much skinnier price than Coneygree as he lines up in the Unibet Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, but it is impossible to pick a hole in his form.
Nicky Henderson is treading a familiar path here, having won the race three times previously, and Buveur D’Air will rightly be a hot favourite after winning the Champion Hurdle last term before going on to further glory at Aintree.
Obviously this will be his first hit-out this term, but he has upwards of 15lb in hand of his four rivals and this should be a penalty kick.
Southfield Theatre made a pleasing return to action at Wincanton in mid-November and he can build on that in the At The Races Rehearsal Handicap Chase.
Second in the 2015 RSA Chase in his pomp, Southfield Theatre has fallen a fair way since that effort with his progression hardly helped by a near year-long absence.
His initial fourth in the Badger Ales Trophy three weeks ago showed some promise, with a couple of late jumping errors hardly helping his chances. Better is anticipated.
Crowned Eagle makes his first start for Marco Botti since changing hands at the autumn sales and he can offer an immediate return on some of his 25,000 guineas purchase price at Wolverhampton.
A winner of two of his eight starts for John Gosden, Crowned Eagle even took his chance in the Derby at Epsom back in June, although he was patently nowhere near good enough as a 33-1 outsider.
Three subsequent unsuccessful runs encouraged connections to ship him out, but having run well enough when fourth in the competitive Old Rowley Cup last time, Gosden’s loss could be Botti’s gain in the Betway Free Bet Club Handicap.
TURF TALK TIPS
BANGOR: 12.25 Shaama Grise, 1.00 Whitsundays, 1.35 Teddy Tee, 2.05 Fin And Game, 2.40 Don’t Ask, 3.15 Flobury, 33.45 Rebel Commander.
DONCASTER: 12.05 Irish Prophecy, 12.40 Redemption Song, 1.15 Canyon City, 1.45 Deauville Dancer, 2.20 Jaleo, 2.55 Frank The Slink, 3.30 Involve.
NEWBURY: 12.10 Sunshade, 12.45 Wait For Me, 1.20 Junction Fourteen, 1.50 Master Dancer, 2.25 Mount Mews, 3.00 CONEYGREE (NAP), 3.35 Tommy Silver.
NEWCASTLE: 11.55 Beach Break, 12.30 Indian Voyage, 1.05 Coole Hall, 1.40 Lough Derg Jewel, 2.10 Buveur D’Air (next best), 2.45 Calach, 3.20 Southfield Theatre (treble).
WOLVERHAMPTON: 5.45 Ingleby Molly, 6.15 Epic Fantasy, 6.45 Refrain, 7.15 Satchville Flyer, 7.45 Towerlands Park, 8.15 Deeley’s Double, 8.45 Crowned Eagle, 9.15 King Kevin.