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Upping The Ante: Authorised Speed gets seal of approval

Upping The Ante is the flagship Cheltenham Festival Preview show and will be building up to the Cotswolds extravaganza every week from now until March.

The show returned this month and host David Jennings has a brand new partner in Johnny Dineen – a man with a wealth of experience in the betting ring and a strong track record of speaking his mind.

On this week's episode, David and Johnny review the action from last week before looking ahead to this weekend's top-class cards at Newbury, Newcastle and Navan.

Henderson's Constitution Hill call fair enough

One of the major talking points from last weekend was the decision by Nicky Henderson to pull Constitution Hill from an intended assignment at Ascot due to unseasonably fast ground.

The impressive winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last season, Constitution Hill is 11/10 to be the Champion Hurdle hero in March.

Some pundits were critical of the Seven Barrows maestro for his conservative approach but with L'homme Presse (Venetia Williams) and Edwardstone (Alan King) other high profile withdrawals, Johnny felt the decision was fair in the circumstances.

"Nicky has a once-in-a-lifetime horse, he couldn't possibly run him if he thought the ground was going to impair on his future career," he said.

"I don't know what all the fuss is about – he's only going to run probably two times before Cheltenham anyway. It doesn't matter where he turns up.

"If the ground was going to mess the horse around for the year, they couldn't take that chance."

Jury still out on Protektorat

Dan Skelton enjoyed the signature win of his training career to date as Protektorat stormed to Betfair Chase glory at Haydock on Saturday.

He took full advantage as Gold Cup hero A Plus Tard had an off day, quickly pulled up by Rachael Blackmore when the race began in earnest after four out.

A Plus Tard is now 10/1 to retain his Gold Cup crown come 17th March, while Protektorat has shortened to 8/1.

Johnny wasn't a big Protektorat fan prior to Haydock and he's reserving judgement given the lacklustre showing from A Plus Tard.

"Protektorat was probably trained for the race, the favourite didn't show. He did win well, but what did he beat? Bristol De Mai, Eldorado Allen?

"He might have a place chance if it's an ordinary Gold Cup, but I couldn't see him winning it."

Authorised for Tolworth glory

Johnny's performance of the week effort came at Lingfield last Tuesday as Authorised Speed won for Gary Moore on testing ground despite pulling hard early in the race.

He had excellent bumper form last season, including finishing fifth behind Facile Vega at Cheltenham, and came clear to win by 15 lengths when upped to 2m3½f at Lingfield on his hurdles introduction in his first start since March.

Johnny forecasts he could turn up at Sandown in early December and again for the Tolworth Hurdle in early January – and he fancies a victory in the latter contest.

"He was going over the line in Lingfield on heavy ground and [Jamie Moore] cannot pull him up," he said.

"It was an awesome performance, in a bad race. He did something you'd rarely see. His bumper form is outstanding and he looks like he will be a better hurdles horse.

"I think he'll follow the Constitution Hill route – Sandown twice – the day of the Tingle Creek and the Tolworth Hurdle.

"He's a certainty to win the Tolworth Hurdle in my eyes. I don't care what he faces, I fancy him very strongly."

Authorised Speed meanwhile can be backed at 33/1 to win the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Shiskin has it all to prove now

This week's big race preview for The Festival was the Queen Mother Champion Chase where reigning champion Energumene is 9/4 to retain that crown for Willie Mullins.

Shishkin flopped in the race back in March, with a problem later identified, having defeated Energumene previously in a memorable Clarence House Chase at Ascot. Nicky Henderson's runner is 4/1 for Champion Chase glory in 2023.

Last season's Arkle winner Edwardstone is 16/1, while Greaneteen is 20/1 for Paul Nicholls and recent Shloer Chase winner Nube Negra is 25/1 to go a place better than when finishing second in 2021 for Dan Skelton.

"I think 9/4 is about fair on Energumene, but you'd want to see him coming back out and racing first," says Johnny Dineen.

"Willie Mullins said he will likely go to Cork for the Hilly Way Chase next weekend. He'll probably have one or two runs and go back to Cheltenham.

"There's a lot to like about him. I don't think he'll be 9/4 on the day."

"Shishkin has to start from scratch after that bad run last time. I don't like backing horses that throw in an absolute stinker like that. If he runs terribly [on his comeback] you might never see him again."

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