Timeform's Matt Gardner tackles a competitive card at Newbury on Hennessy Gold Cup day...
"Nico de Boinville takes off an excellent 5 lb and, if his jumping holds up, Hadrian’s Approach is expected to be bang there..."
12:20 - I'm not totally convinced that she's banker material but, given that we have several wide-open handicaps on the horizon, we need to save lines in the opening leg and Willie Mullins' Vicky de l'Oasis looks just about the best opportunity to do so. A winner of three of her six starts in French bumpers, the four-year-old has looked an exciting prospect when easily winning both starts over timber for this yard; she should improve further still and will take some beating here.
12:50 - Just five runners makes this tricky as, were there to be a non-runner, we would be left needing to include the winner. It's difficult to get a handle on Black Spirit but it's interesting that Paul Nicholls has decided to switch him straight to fences having left Guy Cherel in the summer; he's an unquantifiable proposition but an intriguing one nonetheless. It's also worth including Valdez, a useful hurdler who created a really good impression at the first time of asking over fences, winning at Exeter earlier this month. He's certainly open to further progress and is one to be interested in.
13:20 - Ruben Cotter shaped as though he would come on for the run when well behind Handy Andy on his reappearance at Cheltenham and, being lightly-raced over fences, there is every chance that he may yet have more to offer. Carrigmorna King is equally adept over fences as he is hurdles and should make his presence felt, whilst The Druids Nephew is given a try in cheekpieces after an underwhelming reappearance at Stratford last month. That clearly wasn't his running however, and it is hoped that he puts his best foot forward here.
13:50 - Gibb River, who developed into a smart handicapper in 2011/12, shaped as though he retained plenty of ability after 18 months off at Ascot earlier this month, considerately handled once it became clear that his chance had gone, and he should do better now with the return to this trip also expected to suit. Our second selection will be The Bear Trap, who lost his way last season but got back on track on his return at Sandown. It's interesting that connections, who won this with At Fishers Cross last year, give the cheekpieces a whirl now, and it would come as no surprise were he to be in the firing line.
14:25 - The aforementioned At Fishers Cross, unbeaten throughout last term, returns to action in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle, a race dominated by Big Buck's in recent years. It's not a straightforward task by any means, with his four adversaries all worthy, but he's a high-class stayer in the making and should prove victorious.
15:00 - This years' renewal of the Hennessy Gold Cup is just impossible. From a Placepot perspective we're probably going to be best served by sticking in a few that seem likely to run their race, rather than the "all or nothing" types, so a good starting point looks to be Merry King, who was progressive as a novice last season and shaped well when second to Houblon des Obeaux on his return. Super Duty appeals as the type to be suited by this sort of test and is best forgiven his run at Aintree, when he was probably still recovering from a tough race at Cheltenham, and we're also going to include Hadrian's Approach. Nico de Boinville takes off an excellent 5 lb and, if his jumping holds up, Hadrian's Approach is expected to be bang there.
12:20 - 6
12:50 - 1, 3
13:20 - 3, 7, 11
13:50 - 1, 16
14:25 - 3
15:00 - 9, 14, 19
= 36 lines