Simon Holt: Clyne can hit heights
Top commentator Simon Holt picks out his best bets from the pick of Saturday's action from Newbury and Warwick.
Clyne (pale silks) can land the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury
In theory, there is no better handicapped horse than CLYNE in Saturday's Betfair Handicap Hurdle at Newbury.
Evan Williams' progressive gelding ran a career-best when splitting The New One and L'Ami Serge at Haydock last month, a performance which, if taken literally, suggests he could be about 10lb well in off this old mark. On official ratings, Clyne goes to post here 5lb well in.
So, whether one takes a literal view of the Haydock run or agrees with the handicapper's more considerate appraisal, this horse has to be a major contender at the weights.
What is more, Clyne has proven ability to handle testing conditions and had previously shown enough stamina to win over an extended two-and-a-quarter miles, and those twin attributes of being able to handle the likely ground and to stay well in what is often a searching test at the trip should serve him well.
The talking horse of the race is last season's Champion Bumper winner Ballyandy who is considered handily treated by his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
On potential, that may well be the case but the six-year-old has failed to win in three starts this season and is closely handicapped with Movewiththetimes who was just behind him at Cheltenham in November.
Again, this strong test at the trip could suit Ballyandy but, on his hurdling form so far, his rating looks about right.
Movewiththetimes is a lovely type but made slightly hard work of justifying favouritism at Wincanton after his run at Cheltenham and, as a son of Presenting, there might be a small concern if conditions became really testing (which may be the case).
I prefer Paul Nicholls' other runner Zubayr who, while a little disappointing behind Champion Hurdle contender Brain Power at Sandown in December, had earlier been in the process of running a cracker at Wincanton where he was challenging the smart Sceau Royal only to fall at the last.
Zubayr's previous third to Footpad in very soft ground at Auteuil in May suggests he remains a horse with much potential providing the Wincanton fall hasn't permanently affected his confidence.
Sceau Royal's stable-mate William H Bonney is another of the leading contenders under a 5lb penalty for winning at Cheltenham two weeks ago (though has gone up only 4lb for the win) and, while only once successful over hurdles, Song Light ran a good race when staying on into third behind North Hill Harvey and Modus in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and should be thereabouts.
Of course, much interest at Newbury surrounds the clash between Gold Cup hopefuls Bristol De Mai and Native River in the Betfair Denman Chase (I just favour the latter who returns to the scene of his Hennessy Gold Cup victory in November) and the reappearance of Altior who receives 5lb from Fox Norton in the Betfair Exchange (Game Spirit) Chase and has looked a potential star this season.
Both races appeal much more as a spectacle than for betting purposes.
Meanwhile, at Warwick, VIBRATO VALTAT has his best chance for some time in the Warwick Castle Handicap Chase.
The eight-year-old takes a drop in class here having competed regularly at Grade One and Grade Two level in the past three seasons and his most recent appearance in a handicap came at Aintree in October when a close third behind Third Intention and God's Own.
Pitched in at the deep-end again subsequently at Ascot, Sandown (the Tingle Creek) and when chasing home Vaniteux at Kempton last time, this looks a whole lot easier running off a mark 9lb lower than at this time last year.
One would expect Vibrato Valtat to travel much better than his rivals here and he is unbeaten in two previous visits to Warwick.