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Arzal our lively longshot in the Betfair Hurdle on a huge Saturday

| 06.02.2015

The return of Sire De Grugy, a competitive Betfair Hurdle and sextet of staying chasers set to do battle at Newbury – who says it’s all about Cheltenham?

While many of the equine athletes in action this weekend will have one eye on the Festival, take nothing away from the quality of the action.

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Here’s where we see the winners coming from on a bumper Saturday afternoon.

NAP – Glens Melody – Warwick 14:40

No-one gave wonder mare Quevega such a strong battle up the Cheltenham hill than this horse did last March, running her to within a length at the finish.

So often the bridesmaid, Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old now has a chance to get a first win on the board since picking up this prize 12 months ago.

A former Grade 1 winner, Paul Townend’s mount wasn’t far behind the improving Kitten Rock last time out having made a massive blunder late on.

She is rated at least 9lbs clear of the rest of the field and with her trainer boasting a record of two wins from three at the track with his hurdlers, looks a solid enough bet.

NB – Closing Ceremony – Newbury 13:50

Emma Lavelle’s charge does have work to do if he is to see off Milan Bound who he beat a head back in November with a 10lb swing in the weights, but it’s worth siding with him again.

There’s no denying that Jonjo O’Neill’s stable are in cracking form but Closing Ceremony has gone from strength to strength since that victory at Haydock.

He was an easy winner over the same course and distance next time round and accounted for himself well when stepped up in trip and grade at Warwick next time out, finishing third.

Soft ground will certainly bring out the best of him and with the likely market leader needing to prove that he has grown stronger in absence, we’re siding with the Hampshire trainer’s gelding.

Lively Longshot – Arzal – Newbury 15:35

The Betfair Hurdle is set to be a real competitive affair and as such, it might pay dividends to take a chance on one at a big price.

Paul O’Brien becomes the fifth jockey to ride the horse in as many runs and takes 7lb off what is already a lightweight burden, vital considering only three horses have carried more than 11-3 to victory in this race in 20 years.

The five-year-old beat Nicky Henderson’s hotpot West Wizard by 7l back in November, and has since finished third behind the very useful Jollyallan.

His looks on a fair mark on handicap debut, and with trainer Harry Whittington seeing 17 of his 24 runners fill the first four places this season, could trouble the places.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.