Richard Johnson: Brewin'Upastorm among best novice hurdlers
The Betway ambassador says he's most looking forward to riding Olly Murphy's gelding as he weighs up all his weekend rides at Cheltenham Trials Day.
My Cheltenham rides on Saturday
I’ve got four rides on Trials Day at Cheltenham on Saturday, and Brewin’Upastorm (15:00) is the one I’m most looking forward to.
He is easily one of the best novice hurdlers I have ridden this season and is very straightforward.
I felt the race was too slowly run for him last time at Newbury, but he still did well to be fourth and hopefully there will be a bit more pace on Saturday.
I think he goes there with a very good chance. The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival is the main target at the moment and this is a nice stepping stone.
My first ride on the card is Azzerti (13:15) for Alan King, who won at Ascot last time out.
It’s a typically open Cheltenham handicap, but he goes there in decent form and must have a good chance.
He continues to improve and I’m sure connections will be looking at the Close Brothers Novices’ Chase on the first day of the Festival if he runs well here.
War Sound runs in the following handicap chase (13:50). He wasn’t at his best here last December and just didn’t seem his usual self. I’m happy to put a line through that because he is generally so competitive and consistent.
He won by six lengths at Aintree the time before and I think there is still more to come from him. It’s competitive but conditions should suit and he has a chance of hitting the frame.
My final ride of the day is Flashing Glance in the handicap hurdle (16:10).
He generally runs well but he might just be in the handicapper’s grip now. He ran a good race at Leicester last time and I hope he’ll go well for Tom Lacey and connections.
Rest of Cheltenham
I’ve no ride in the Cotswold Chase (14:25) but I think Frodon will take all the beating if he stays the trip. He absolutely loves it round here and was very impressive in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup last month.
The only concern is he has never gone this far and connections will probably be testing him to see whether he can cope with the extra distance before deciding if it’s the Gold Cup or the Ryanair.
There are a couple of up-and-coming horses who will be ready to pounce should he not get home.
Elegant Escape looks the obvious danger having won the Welsh National last time out, while Nicky Henderson’s Valtor is in the mix having sprung a shock at Ascot last time out when winning by eight lengths at a big price.
Elsewhere, Black Op was superb last year and he could be the one in the Cleeve Hurdle (15:35).
He has struggled a bit over fences this season but he had some excellent form as a novice hurdler last year and will be receiving weight from a number of his rivals.
It’s a very strong race, pretty much a Stayers’ Hurdle without the Irish horse and Paisley Park is improving fast. One thing is for certain, whoever wins is likely to be a very strong contender for the big one in March.
Lalor was entered for the Lightning Novices’ Chase at Doncaster but the decision was made to swerve the race.
We know he likes a bit of cut in the ground and there’s just no point running these horses for the sake of it on ground that is going to be too quick.
I’ve been more than happy with him this season and have absolutely no problem with him going straight to the Festival.
Fontwell on Sunday
I go to Fontwell on Sunday to ride Umndeni (15:00) and hopefully things go slightly smoother than last time.
Unfortunately I was unseated at the start when the horse in front jinked to the left and that meant I had to take a few days off.
Thankfully the horse is fine and hopefully he can win his first race over hurdles. Paul Nicholls’ Birds Of Prey looks the biggest danger.
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