Road the play in Rehearsal
The Hennessy Gold Cup takes centre stage on Saturday but Ian Ogg has turned attention to the At The Races Rehearsal Chase.
Bishops Road should relish conditions at Newcastle
The maxim that weight stops horses doesn't stand up to examination in the At The Races Rehearsal Chase with Hey Big Spender twice defying 11-12 (as well as 11-4) while Junior has also carried top-weight to victory in the last five renewals of Newcastle's staying handicap.
Minella Rocco currently heads the weights but I would have expected the National Hunt Chase winner to have been shorter in the market if the vibes were that he was going to take his chance in the North East on Saturday.
That could mean that the weights will go up by 4lb with the second highest rated, Virak, a more likely runner despite his entry in the Hennessy Gold Cup on the same day.
He is rated only 2lb higher than when beaten half a length by the re-opposing Wakanda (now 7lb higher) in last year's renewal and, as Hey Big Spender's record suggests, this is clearly a race where horses can be expected to go well in year on year. Virak posted a perfectly satisfactory reappearance in the Charlie Hall Chase, a run that should have put him spot on for this test.
Nicholls has a more progressive runner in the line-up in the shape of Vivaldi Collonges although a poor reappearance at Sandown needs to be excused for the seven-year-old.
The talented Bristol De Mai could appreciate this step up in trip and he will certainly relish the softer conditions as will Definitly Red who heads the ante-post betting. Brian Ellison's runner did well to win over hurdles on his reappearance and enjoyed a fine first season over fences which included second place finishes behind Black Hercules and Blaklion.
He certainly looks feasibly treated with a rating of 142 and has some course form to his name when second to Hennessy Gold Cup favourite Native River (albeit he was sent off at odds-on) in a novices' hurdle. His chance is clear but at 5/1 I'm happy to let him be at present.
He is still entered in the Hennessy Gold Cup but he has a far more realistic chance of landing the Newcastle contest and it's encouraging that Joshua Moore has been pencilled in for the ride there.
The eight-year-old will be close to the top of the weights if lining up but he earned the burden with a 10lb rise for his impressive victory in Haydock's Grand National Trial last February. That was just his second start for Kerry Lee and first over an extended trip and there should be more to come from him this season.
The market certainly didn't expect the rise in the weights to prove a problem when he lined up at Aintree for the Topham as he was sent off the 8/1 favourite that day. He ended up unseating at the first and didn't get any further in Sandown's season ending staying handicap but his jumping hadn't looked to be a problem earlier in the campaign and he's sure to have been schooled extensively since.
Lee's string are just beginning to hit form and this test appeals as an ideal one for a horse who was quick enough to win over two and a half miles last season, as well as having the stamina to win over a mile further, while testing conditions are absolutely ideal too.
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