Author: Alan Kelly
Published: 08:25 04/02/2015
Hopefully Newbury's Betfair Hurdle meeting on Saturday will survive the current cold spell as the day's feature handicap at 3.35pm is turning into one of the most competitive contests of its kind this season with 32 horses standing their ground at the five-day declaration stage, of which an expected maximum field of 24 will go to post for the race still affectionately referred to as the "schweppes" by national hunt enthusiasts of a certain age.
Persian War, Large Action, Make A Stand and My Tent Or Yours are just a few of the top class winners of the two mile handicap since its inception in 1963 and while there is unlikely to be anything of that calibre in the 2015 renewal there are plenty with pretty impressive credentials, including the two ante-post market leaders Calipto and Actival.
Both horses boast decent novice form and have been targeted at this race by their respective shrewd trainers and while neither look overburdoned off the same mark of 143 any value has long since disappeared with the Paul Nicholls runner a best price 5-1, two points shorter than Harry Fry's Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle third, and for that reason it is worth siding with a horse who could well be open to more improvement and can be backed at a standout 16-1 with Irish bookmaker Paddy Power.
The John Hales-owned Fascino Rustico showed a great deal of potential when in the care of Paul Nicholls last season including when second at Kempton with Supreme Novices' Hurdle third and fourth Vaniteux and Sgt Reckless behind.
Now in the care of up and coming trainer Dan Skelton the son of Milan has hardly been out of second gear in winning races at Bangor and Newcastle, with a 5lb penalty for last week's nine length victory over Zip Top ( runner up to subsequent 2000 Guineas and Derby winner Camelot in Racing Post Trophy as a juvenile ) unlikely to stop the seven-year-old proving better than a 135-rated performer.
At number 25 Fascino Rustico needs just one to drop out in order to guarantee a run at the weekend for which the gelding looks good value to supply Skelton with a big pay day by landing the £155k historic handicap for his Grand National winning owner.
Recommendation - 1 Point each-way Fascino Rustico (16-1 Paddy Power)