David Jennings and Johnny Dineen returned for episode nine of Upping The Ante this week as they looked back at recent action over the New Year period at Cheltenham, Newbury and in Ireland.
Dineen gives us his performance of the week, including an eyecatcher from Newbury who he believes will go on to be a very good horse, and they preview the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown this Saturday.
In his usual segment, Dineen ranked his best three performances since the last Upping The Ante Show. State Man and Hermes Allen were both included on that list, however, his top spot went to Marie's Rock, who was victorious in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Dineen believes Nicky Henderson's mare will take some beating in the Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, the race she won in 2022. The Seven Barrows runner is now the 7/2 favourite for the contest.
He said: "Marie's Rock has set down a strong marker for the Mares' Hurdle. She didn't just beat the opposite sex in the Relkeel Hurdle; she blew them away. Nico de Boinville had a choice in that race, and he opted for Marie's Rock, which tells you how much he thinks of the horse.
"At one stage last season, I did not think Marie's Rock was very good, but then she won at Cheltenham and Punchestown. She is rising towards 160 in the ratings, which is probably the benchmark now for the best mares.
"If I owned Marie's Rock, I wouldn't even be considering the Stayers' Hurdle, as she may not stay. I'd go for the Mares' Hurdle as I think she is the one to beat again."
Jupiter Du Gite won a novice hurdle contest at Newbury by 15 lengths last Saturday, but it was the runner-up in that race that Dineen believes has a smart future. He labelled Klitschko as his eyecatcher of the week.
He said: "He has been very keen on both of his two starts over hurdles so far. Tom Cannon dropped him to the back of the field in the early stages at Newbury as they are obviously teaching him how to race. He may need one or two more runs before he settles better.
"I can see this horse at least being in graded company. He could be a County Hurdle horse or one that turns up at Aintree in April with a big chance in one of their races.
"Looking at his pedigree, he is a well-bred horse who will appreciate better ground in the spring. He was dropped out into another county at Newbury, as he just could not settle. Once they get him to race better, I can see him being a very nice horse."
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In the ante-post segment for the Cheltenham Festival, Jennings advised backing Hermes Allen for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, where he is now 10/3 market leader following his demolition job in the Challow at Newbury for Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden.
He said: "I wasn't sure about Hermes Allen going into the Challow, but he cruised up the home straight. He is completely different to Bravemansgame, as I think he is a 'now' horse. He is going to relish better ground.
"It was very difficult to run on that sort of ground at Newbury and finish full of running like he did. Visually, it was so impressive.
"I think the only reason he is not shorter in the betting for the Ballymore is past experience of Paul Nicholls' runners in that race."
The Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday is the opening Grade 1 contest of the New Year in the UK.
Luccia has opened up as the 6/4 favourite for the race at the Esher-based venue. However, Dineen likes the chances of Authorised Speed (9/4) who goes into the 2m contest with a 100 per-cent record over hurdles.
He said: "There are four good horses in this race. Luccia has plenty going for her, as she is unbeaten, and she will get the mares' allowance, so I can see why she has been made the favourite for this race. However, you need a special mare to take on geldings.
"I was so surprised that Authorised Speed and Tahmuras were so close in the betting. I don't think Tahmuras will finish ahead of Authorised Speed. He won at Haydock beating Sizing Pottsie and that sort of form is not going to be good enough in a race like this.
"Authorised Speed is a very good horse. I am going to keep backing him over hurdles until he gets beat. Gary Moore is in great form at the moment, particularly with his novice hurdlers and this could be the best of them."