A field of eight go to post for a very interesting handicap hurdle at Newbury on Friday, see our betting tips and the full race preview below.
IN SUMMARY: Optimus Prime would be very interesting if returning to the form of his British debut in the first time tongue tie but this can go to I’M A GAME CHANGER. He romped home on handicap debut at Ludlow in February when soundly beating Dino Velvet by eleven lengths, giving the impression that more could be expected of him. He’s been raised 12lb as a result but the Philip Hobbs yard couldn’t be in better form and he’s a likely improver with conditions to suit and the champion jockey booked. He can win this on his way to better things with perhaps Prairie Town at a bigger price filling out the final place.
1 OPTIMUS PRIME – Five year old was a winner over hurdles in France and showed lots of ability on hurdling debut at Huntingdon in November, finishing second behind Robinshill after attempting to make all, battling back well when headed to narrowly be denied. Considering it was his first run in over six months and he was giving away weight to the entire field, it was certainly a good display. His latest start at Musselburgh however was a shade disappointing, pulling up after weakening rapidly when headed. Back down in class today and should appreciate the softer conditions, but the way he weakened tamely out of his latest start has to be a concern. He remains with potential but is very risky.
2 MINELLA CHARMER – Six year old who is very hard to gauge at present, with only three hurdling runs to go off at present. On his second run over timber, he won at Plumpton in January 2016 in emphatic style, though was unable to back that up when well beaten the time after in the River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster three weeks later. He has been chasing the last twice, falling on debut at Wetherby in December when still travelling well but failed to build upon that when brushed aside at Exeter in February. He now reverts to hurdling and makes his handicap debut off a mark of 136, which he should be able to do damage off of. The step back in trip isn’t sure to suit though as he’s been racing over much further and may just be found wanting for pace in this, others preferred on this occasion.
3 I’M A GAME CHANGER – Came alive on his third run over timber when winning at Bangor in January (2m Good to Soft), comfortably dispatching of his rivals in convincing fashion. On handicap debut at Ludlow he showed marked improvement when easily dispatching of Dino Velvet last month, running out a comprehensive winner off a mark of 122. He’s now been raised 12lb as a result and is in an arguably tougher race but he remains with scope for progress for the in form Philip Hobbs team with Richard Johnson taking the ride. He won that latest race in convincing fashion so he should be more than capable of shrugging it off on his way to listed and graded races in the future.
4 ZARIB – Six year old who won three starts ago at Leicester in December over fences, gunning down the long time leader in the final 50 yards for a hard fought victory (2m 4f, Good to Firm). He did however fall at Cheltenham in January in a tough looking race and was sent over hurdles last time out at Tautnon for a confidence booster, though was soundly beaten (2m 3f, Good) after finding little off the bridle. He has been dropped 2lb as a result and he’s now onto his last winning mark, which does make him itneresting Conditions are to suit and he looks a solid each way player for Dan Skelton.
5 INNER DRIVE – Showed lots of promise in novice hurdles back in early 2015, winning at Huntingdon on hurdling debut when storming clear for a very easy success (2m 3f, Soft). He backed that up three weeks later when a nose second to Rock The Kasbah at Newbury (2m 4f, Good to Soft), chinned on the line in heart breaking fashion. He hasn’t however been seen since flopping on chasing debut at Plumpton in November 2015, though that did turn out to be a reasonably hot race. He returns from a 494 day absence off a mark of 133 and with what he showed on those initial hurdling runs, he has to be of strong interest for Alan King. Likely watching the market will be crucial but he’s entitled to go very close.
6 TARA RIVER – Ex french horse who put up some decent performances when over the channel, finishing second to Kotkikova at Auteuil in April 2016. She didn’t however show anything for new connections at Chepstow, finishing last after receiving reminders from an early stage. Hard to see her landing a blow in a tougher race and looks to be making up the numbers in this for Brian Barr abd Mitchell Bastyan.
7 MAESTRO ROYAL – Gained his second win over timber when winning at Sandown on his penultimate start (1m 7f, Soft), finally picking up for pressure on the run in to gun down Robinshill late on for a good victory. He wasn’t however as good at Cheltenham a few weeks later off a 7lb mark, finishing seventh and well beaten (2m, Soft). He needs to resume progress if he’s to feature and there has to be a suspicion he’ll be vulnerable off a mark of 130 against some improving types. Possible each way claims but others look likely for win purposes.
8 PRAIRIE TOWN – Strike rate of two wins from sixteen starts over timber doesn’t help his chances but he was far from disgraced when keeping on well in the Imperial Cup, coming down at the last (1m 7f, Soft). Not particularly well handicapped as he’s still 7lb above his last winning mark, though he’s performed well off 3lb lower than his current mark in the past. Possible place claims for Tony Carroll in suitable conditions but he remains vulnerable for win purposes.