Cheltenham Festival winner Kilbricken Storm continues his education over fences in the Ladbrokes John Francome Novices’ Chase – which looks sure to prove informative.
Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old was a surprise winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in March, but proved it was no fluke when going within half a length of following up at Punchestown.
He made a winning chasing debut at Ffos Las but will need to improve on that level of form at Newbury on Saturday.
Tizzard said: “He got to the front at Ffos Las, jumped a bit right and was a bit sloppy.
“He looked as though he was going to get beat halfway up the run-in, but he picked up again. He did tighten up massively for a run, though. I think he needed the run, and he is a lot sharper at home mentally.
“We schooled him on Wednesday, and he jumped faster. He will be a lot better on Saturday, but it is a tough race. He will have jumped 10 fences, and that was enough just to remind him and keep his eye in.
“You don’t win at Cheltenham like he did and come third at Punchestown without being a good horse – so the form is solid.”
Nicky Henderson has been waiting a long time to get Santini over fences, repeatedly stressing whatever he did over hurdles was a bonus.
He was third behind Kilbricken Storm in March but won at Aintree a month later.
“He worked well at Newbury last week and schools very well too,” said Henderson.
“We had the option of this race or two and a half miles on Friday. I would have liked to find something easier for him in an ideal world, but he needs to run.”
David Pipe’s Mr Big Shot, Ben Pauling’s Le Breuil and Kim Bailey’s Rocky’s Treasure add even further strength in depth – making it one of the strongest races of its type this season.
The Gerry Feilden Hurdle has unearthed a good horse or two down the years, and this season is being run as the Ladbrokes Intermediate Hurdle.
Top weight is Pauling’s Global Citizen, a Grade Two winner last year and second on his return at Ascot.
Pauling said: “He missed the Greatwood, but seems very well. I will just be keeping a close eye on the ground. He would not want it getting too soft, but it looks like the perfect opportunity for him to further his experience in a race that looks in his favour.
“It will be interesting to see how the form of the Ascot race works out. He travelled very well there. But he does race very enthusiastically, and doesn’t always do himself any favours by putting so much into it.
“He got tired there, but all the same we were very happy with him.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Ballymoy and Henderson’s Whatswrongwithyou appear the two to beat.
Pauling’s Barters Hill makes yet another return from a lengthy absence in the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle over two and a half miles – in which Henderson’s Champ sets the standard, with Ian Williams’ Speedo Boy looking to follow up his Cheltenham win.
Closing the card is a top-class two-mile handicap chase in which Brian Ellison’s Forest Bihan is top weight.
He finished third on his seasonal return in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham and drops out of graded company for this.
“He ran at Cheltenham and just blew up. He’ll have come on a lot for that,” said Ellison.
“I’m expecting a big run. It was clear he just needed a run, and I really fancy him – he’s a horse with loads of ability.”
Phil Kirby’s Lady Buttons, winner of a mares’ Listed race over hurdles at Wetherby last time out, and Harry Whittington’s Bigmartre both bring classy form to the table.
In the opening Ladbrokes Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, Listed honours are up for grabs – and Alan King’s Passing Call is chasing a four-timer.
“It took a long time for the penny to drop, but once she shrugged off that seconditis she has thrived – and, while this is a step up in class, she is in very good order and deserves a shot at some black type,” King told his website.
Henderson’s Lust for Glory, Paul Nicholls’ Posh Trish and Bailey’s Diamond Gait all hold claims.