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There is a plethora of top-class racing action this weekend
  1. Horse Racing

Weekend Racing Preview: Henderson hotshot up for Newcastle Fight

Article originally published on 25.11.22

A week later than originally planned, last season's outstanding novice hurdler Constitution Hill will be the focus of attention for Newcastle's Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle on Saturday afternoon.

The race is the highlight of the jumps season at Gosforth Park and it comes on a busy Saturday that also includes Britain's most prestigious handicap chase at Newbury, while Sunday brings similar fare from Ireland via the Troytown at Navan.

Follow all the weekend's racing action from across Britain and Ireland via our Sports Live Streaming Service as we look forward to another bumper 48 hours of National Hunt action.

Henderson takes star name to Newcastle

Nicky Henderson generated plenty of talk last weekend when Constitution Hill was a raceday withdrawal at Ascot but the Seven Barrows-handler hasn't waited long to get last season's star novice re-engaged.

The Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle (2.10) at Newcastle is a race Henderson has won a record seven times and his mare Epatante (4/1) is joining 1/4 Constitution Hill in the north-east for this latest renewal.

Epatante won the race in 2020 and dead-heated last year with re-opposing 14/1 chance Not So Sleepy. Tommy's Oscar, fresh from chasing at Cheltenham this month in an Arkle Trial where he was second, is 28/1 back over hurdles, but Constitution Hill is the name on everyone's lips.

He broke the track record at Cheltenham in his spell-binding Supreme Novices' Hurdle win in March and is ante-post favourite for Champion Hurdle glory back there in the spring. His reappearance is the most anticipated return in Britain this winter and it comes now at Newcastle, a week later than expected.

Newbury showpiece requires a touch of class

Down through the years the Gold Cup (3.05) has been the traditional mid-winter handicap chase with the real mark of prestige at Newbury. Since 2007 it has been won by Cheltenham Gold Cup winners such as Denman (twice, remarkably), Bobs Worth and Native River – a testament to the quality of the famous Newbury contest.

A field of 16 are engaged for the three-and-a-quarter-mile test this time around, with Cheltenham Festival winner Corach Rambler (13/2) vying for favouritism for Lucinda Russell alongside 7/1 Threeunderthrufive for Paul Nicholls and David Pipe's Remastered (7/1).

Last year's fast finishing second Fiddlerontheroof meanwhile is 9/1 to go one spot better for Joe Tizzard this time around, while last-time-out London Gold Cup winner Our Power at 10/1 could be a key player for Welsh handler Sam Thomas.

Fanion D'estruval (25/1) carries top-weight representing last year's winning trainer Venetia Williams, while hopes of just a second Irish-trained winner of the race this century are resting on Joseph O'Brien's 8/1 poke Busselton – winner of the Kerry National at Listowel in September on his previous start.

Fascinating clash in John Francome Novices' Chase

Just four runners for the Grade 2 John Francome Novices' Chase (12.45) at Newbury but the seven-time champion jockey and revered pundit will be eager as anyone to see what promises to be a fascinating tussle.

Philip Hobbs' Thyme Hill is 5/4 after a winning debut over fences at Exeter recently, though the former Grade 1-winning staying hurdler wasn't always fluent at his obstacles that day.

He faces what promises to be a stern challenge from the Paul Nicholls duo Gelino Bello (9/4) and McFabulous (5/2) in this three-miler.

It's perhaps surprising that stable jockey Harry Cobden sides with last month's Wetherby novice winner Gelino Bello, as McFabulous was much the better hurdler of the Ditcheat pair. His lacklustre Wincanton chasing bow was explained away by Nicholls this month and he jumped well and powered clear when making amends at Exeter 12 days ago.

Thyme Hill won the Long Distance Hurdle at this meeting in 2020 with McFabulous behind in third spot, and with the latter getting 3lb now, this rematch has the potential to be a real cracker.

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Dublin delight for Brennan and O'Brien?

No such intricacies for the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase (1.20) at Newbury where 13 runners have been declared for the Class 2 contest run in memory of racing's most recognisable voice.

The Christian Williams-trained Kitty's Light tops the racecard but will perhaps want more than this 2m6½f journey to be at his peak, while the likes of 5/1 Kapcorse for Paul Nicholls, 11/2 Killer Kane for Joe Tizzard and 7/1 Mister Coffey for Nicky Henderson all have leading designs on the prize.

Fergal O'Brien and Paddy Brennan are often a potent team worth reckoning with and 7/1 Dublin Four could be a player for them.

He won at this meeting 12 months ago on stable for O'Brien and added another success at Chepstow in April. Last month's Wetherby comeback saw him flying home from the back of the field to finish second over 2m3½f in the hands of Conor Brace, perhaps having been left with a little too much work on his hands.

He was a C&D winner for previous connections and could be set to build on that return to action now going back up in distance.

Star performers turns out at Navan

American Mike perhaps wasn't as impressive in his winning hurdles bow at Down Royal this month as some expected, but Gordon Elliott's charge did little wrong and he'll look to make a step up having been declared for the Grade 3 Monksfield Novice Hurdle (1.20) at Navan on Sunday.

A stellar bumper performer last term, American Mike is the 9/2 favourite for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

All four of his Navan rivals on Sunday boast winning hurdles form already, including Joseph O'Brien's Galileo gelding Dawn Rising and Con O'Keefe's mare Kilbarry Choice – a winner in this grade at Limerick in March.

Elliott mob-handed again in Troytown

Gordon Elliot is renowned for turning up at Navan with a scatter-gun approach in the Troytown Handicap Chase (2.20) and the Cullentra handler did not disappoint when declarations came out on Friday morning as he is responsible for a phenomenal eight of the 19 runners.

He won with Run Wild Fred last time and Davy Russell is on board Death Duty now in the same Gigginstown colours, while Jack Kennedy partners Frontal Assault in the same silks.

Jordan Gainford rides Defi Bleu, while Farclas and Coko Beach complete the five-strong Gigginstown squad. At the foot of the weights, Glenloe has some useful form and should be sharper for his comeback at Cork this month, with Rachael Blackmore booked to ride for Elliott here.

Willie Mullins goes with a paltry three contenders in comparison to Elliott, Egality Mans, Fighter Allen and Rambranlt'jac representing Ireland's champion trainer.

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