Weekend Racing Preview: Viva Steve can lead O'Brien to Becher glory
The Betfair Tingle Creek headlines a superb Saturday of racing and Adam Baylis returns in winning form with four fancies from Aintree and Sandown...
"Viva Steve ran a nice race when re-appearing in the Kerry National in September and the Fergal O’Brien yard has enjoyed a fruitful start to the season. Given the right conditions he has the potential to be much better than a mark of 138."
Second in the race last year and the winner in 2015, James Moffat's Highland Lodge is as good a place to start as any in deciphering the winner of the Becher Chase at 13:30. He returns this year as an 11-year-old off only a 1lb higher mark than when falling to defeat by a short head. And age has proven no barrier to winning this contest with Hello Bud tasting victory at the grand age of 14 in 2012. The current forecast of soft ground will be fine for him but he wouldn't want it to deteriorate much more and he's worth keeping on side at 12/1.
At the same price, Viva Steve ran a nice race when re-appearing in the Kerry National in September and the Fergal O'Brien yard has enjoyed a fruitful start to the season. Given the right conditions he has the potential to be much better than a mark of 138. Lest we forget, he finished just over a length behind the Last Samuri in 2015 who he will get upwards of a stone from on Saturday.
Having already tasted Listed success this season, Paul Nicholls' Malaya is odds on for the Juvenile Hurdle contest at 14:05 with good reason and I wouldn't be rushing to take her on. Gavin Cromwell - who is an excellent placer of his horses - won this in 2015 with Jers Girl and if his Famous Milly lines up, she may be worth chancing each-way at 8/1. A fairly able performer on the flat, she made a nice start to life over obstacles when second at Punchestown a fortnight ago but likely still has a lot to find with the favourite despite getting weight.
This year's renewal of the Henry VIII Novices' Chase at 13:45 looks one to sit back and savour such is the level of quality throughout the field. Nicky Henderson's Brain Power heads the market at 4/5 after winning his chase debut by half the track last month.
He is however priced up very much on potential rather than known form. And while there's every chance he could ascend the antepost festival betting boards by the time this is over, it might be worth taking him on with North Hill Harvey; who we obviously know a lot more about. Dan Skelton's gelding already holds a verdict over Sceau Royal this season and he built on that last time with an 18 length victory in the November Novices' Chase.
Following the withdrawal of both Douvan and Un De Sceaux, the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at 14:55 has been left with what will likely come down to a match between Fox Norton and Politologue. The latter was hugely impressive when winning the Haldon Gold Cup last time and the accuracy of his jumping that day will stand him in good stead for this test but he'll have to find a good deal of improvement to put it up to the 4/7 favourite.
Since being beaten a head in the Queen Mother, Fox Norton hasn't looked back, racking up three victories on the bounce. He was imperious when putting eight lengths between himself and the opposition at Cheltenham last time and he can add a further Grade 1 to his resume on Saturday.
The Betfair London National offers much more competitive fare at 15:30 but it's tough to ignore the claims of Neil Mulholland's Doing Fine. The son of Presenting put in an eye-catching run behind Cogry at Cheltenham at the end of October and while he was second off a much lower mark in this last year, you sense there could be more to come from him this season. He had form on soft ground when with Rebecca Curtis so any deterioration in conditions shouldn't be an inconvenience and he can give his yard a second win in this race at 6/1.
Back Highland Lodge in the 13:30 Aintree at 12/1 Each-Way (Betfair Sportsbook)
Back Viva Steve in the 13:30 Aintree at 12/1 Each-Way (Betfair Sportsbook)
Back Doing Fine in the 15:30 Sandown at 6/1 (Betfair Sportsbook)
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