Equestrian - Big names look to take Betfair glory

Newbury's Betfair Hurdle is looking like it could be a pre-Cheltenham battle of the big guns as Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson go toe-to-toe again.


As expected Nicholls removed exciting novice Irving from the line-up due to the heavy ground although he does still have 5/1 favourite Irish Saint and lively outsider Far West representing Ditcheat.

The Somerset handler is £500,000 clear of perennial rival and current champion trainer Henderson in this year's title race and will be hoping that the latter's Rolling Star does not get the Seven Barrows machine running on all cylinders.

Michael Buckley's five-year-old is shouldering top weight of 11st 12lb which will be the best weight-carrying performance since Persian War in 1968 if he wins.

Considering Persian War went on to become one of the greatest hurdlers of all time this is some task although the noises from Seven Barrows have been nothing but positive.

Going under the radar, as so often is the case, is the Phillip Hobbs–Richard Johnson team who saddle 2011 Champion Bumper winner Cheltenian.

Winners of that race from recent years include Cue Card and Champagne Fever so it is easy to see the quality that the race usually throws up.

Cheltenian won that race by five lengths and Johnson is looking forward to the ride at 3:35 on Saturday.

He said: "On what he achieved at Uttoxeter it's probably quite a harsh mark [134], but with the ability he's got you'd like to think he's got room to improve.

"He's very straightforward and Newbury is a galloping track, which I think will suit him well. He has got a lot in his favour.

"He's the unexposed horse in the race and we already know he can perform at the highest level."

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