With the prospect of little National Hunt action taking place this week due to the current cold spell Newbury Racecourse are taking every precaution to ensure that Saturday’s prestigious Betfair Hurdle meeting is given every chance of beating the elements with frost covers having been deployed at the Berkshire venue since last week ahead of an unsettled seasonal forecast for the forseable future, of which clerk of the course Richard Osgood said on Monday: “Temperatures are going to be at their coldest tonight and tomorrow night, and improving towards the weekend. We were -2 to -3 this morning and it will get gradually warmer. The going is good to soft, soft in places. We may get a wintry shower of sleet or snow on Wednesday night, but it’s not expected to be a lot.”
Providing Saturday’s card gets the go-ahead the feature handicap at 3.35pm promises to be as competitive as ever as 32 possibles stood their ground at the five-day declaration stage headed by the Nicky Henderson-trained Sign Of Victory on 11st 12lb. As well as the top weight the Seven Barrows handler is also responsible for the horse at the foot of the handicap Snake Eyes ( a best price 16-1 with Skybet and Paddy Power ) who will need eight to come out if he is to get a run, with a maximum 24 allowed to go to post for the £155k contest.
The ante-post market is currently dominated by the Paul Nicholls-trained Calipto who is a general 5-1 chance, although 6-1 is still available with Betfair Sportsbook, and the master of Ditcheat is confident of a big run, saying; “Calipto is fit. He’s had one run this season. If he’d rolled on from Cheltenham and won a race or two he might have been 10lb higher. We stopped him to sort out his wind and have a crack at this. I don’t think we can get him any better. We didn’t start the season knowing where we were going, it’s just the way it’s unfolded, and this was the obvious race to go for. I’m delighted by the way he’s been working recently and I’m expecting a big run.”
Main market rival to the Nicholls runner and set to carry the same weight of 11st 6lb is Actival from the Harry Fry stable who is a 7-1 chance with most bookmakers but a standout 15-2 with Betway. The lightly-raced five-year-old has had just the one race this season when finishing a close third in the valuable Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot before Christmas and, like Calipto, has been trained with this race in mind for some time.