Dodging Bullets returns to action at Newbury on Saturday and on ratings really has to kick these out of the way if he’s to have any chance of a repeat win in the Champion Chase next March.
He shouldn’t have any problems despite the 339-day absence. Newbury is a lovely galloping track, very fair and very straightforward and the best horses nearly always win around there.
Paul Nicholls’ stable has turned the corner and are firing in the winners at the moment and the vibes from Ditcheat are that they’re very happy with Dodging Bullets.
He’s rated 171 and Top Gamble is next best on 155 with Captain Conan, who should improve on his hurdle run behind The New One on 150. The classy L’Ami Serge will probably stay in the novice division at Warwick (see below). They’ll all have to improve an awful lot to give Dodging Bullets a race.
If he doesn’t win this on Saturday it’s going to be hard to go to the Champion Chase as a live contender.
Barry Geraghty doing 10-04 to ride Blazer looks significant. That’s about the lightest Barry can do and the fact that Willie Mullins sends him over just seven days after his Leopardstown win tells its own story too.
They’ve been given a 12lb rise for that win in Ireland but only carry the mandatory 5lb penalty here. With such a big prize on offer and technically being 7lb ‘well in’ – they have to go for it. But he hasn’t been missed in the market.
I rode Jolly’s Cracked to dead-heat with Sternrubin at Ascot and couldn’t believe he fought back to split the decision on the line given the speed he went off at. Everyone will know they’re in a race if he hares off in front – but he finishes strongly too.
Richard Johnson has picked him over stablemate and Champion Hurdle entrant War Sound and I can see STERNRUBIN having a big part in the finish.
Earlier on the card, the Grade 2 Denman Chase looks a close call between Rocky Creek and BALLYNAGOUR . David Pipe’s runner is actually rated 1lb higher on 159 but gets 6lbs off the Nicholls’ runner here. If Ballynagour can return to the form that saw him within four lengths of Cue Card at Wetherby last year – he can take advantage here.
I’m at Warwick to ride Jessber’s Dream who can’t have the ground soft enough – which is just as well as it’s going to be very testing there over the 2m 5f trip.
Willie Mullins looks to have the whip hand on the best mares in training and we were second to his Myska at Taunton in December and he sends over Petite Parisienne . Irish raider Jennies Jewel (who was second to Vroum Vroum Mag at Ascot) travels over again and she’ll be hard to beat on that form.
But Jessber’s Dream has won on heavy ground, comes here fresh and will love the step back up in trip.
I ride Fox Norton in the three-runner Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices Chase. L’Ami Serge is is the class actand looks England’s best hope of beating Douvan in the Arkle Chase at the festival next month.
He just has to get around to win and on ratings, Fox Norton comes out second best and can chase the Nicky Henderson-trained d runner home before maybe heading to Aintree rather than Cheltenham.