THE old Hennessy Gold Cup, now re-branded as the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase, is one of the great steeplechases on the calendar and WHISPER (3.00) can carve his name on the roll of honour.
Nicky Henderson has always held him in high regard and Whisper ran the race of his life when pipped by the wayward but rallying Might Bite in an RSA Chase cliffhanger at Cheltenham.
Whisper edged out Clan Des Obeaux in a hard-fought match at Kempton on his first run back in 220 days and that should have brought him to his peak. He picked up a 4lb penalty for that success which makes life even tougher in this ultra-competitive handicap.
On the plus side, Whisper has the services of master tactician Davy Russell and the merit of his Kempton triumph was underlined when Clan Des Obeaux hosed up at Haydock last Saturday.
Whisper’s stablemate Vyta Du Roc finished sixth last year and is 3lb lower. Henderson has been quite bullish about his chance in the build-up to the big race.
Nigel Twiston-Davies saddles an interesting runner near the foot of the weights in Cogry. The gelding's jumping has not been without blemish in the past but he fairly hurtled around Cheltenham in late October to beat Singlefarmpayment by four lengths.
Cogry also finished a close second to Vicente in the Scottish Grand National so stamina is not an issue.
Ireland has a pretty desperate record in this event but Willie Mullins saddles probable favourite Total Recall, along with Malcolm Denmark’s Pleasant Company.
Total Recall hacked up in the Ladbrokes Munster National at Limerick but has been thumped by the British handicapper, his winning Irish mark soaring from 129 to 147.
The best of the Irish trio could well be Noel Meade’s A Genie In Abottle. He disappointed in the National Hunt Chase when fancied at Cheltenham in March but has been in rampant form this season, beating subsequent Troytown Chase winner Mala Beach at Galway.
A Genie In Abottle also took his revenge on Cheltenham conqueror Tiger Roll at Wexford to prove his wellbeing.
The Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle has attracted a strong field and OLD GUARD (1.50) should play a leading role.
Paul Nicholls has given him three runs already this season, kicking off with a seventh place behind Court Minstrel at Chepstow. Old Guard is now 10lb better off with today’s top weight (including Bryony Frost’s 5lb claim) and has since mopped up a Listed event at Kempton and ran well in finishing third to Elgin in the Cheltenham mud.
Court Minstrel’s Chepstow success has worked out remarkably well but he wouldn’t want the ground too testing.
Coeur De Lion found two miles around Wincanton too sharp a test when only fifth to ill-fated London Prize in the Unibet Elite Hurdle.
CHARLI PARCS (2.25) made a striking UK debut when scoring at Kempton’s Christmas fixture but ran a bit flat when fancied in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
Running in the JP McManus colours, Charli Parcs can start to fulfil his potential by landing the Ladbrokes Intermediate Hurdle.
Earlier on the card BLACK CORTON (12.45) should make it six straight victories under Bryony Frost by bagging the Ladbrokes John Francome Novices’ Chase.
The Nicholls-trained gelding showed tremendous battling qualities to beat off Ballyoptic in the deep ground at Cheltenham and although his jockey cannot claim in this Graded contest, Black Corton is top rated on official figures.
At Newcastle, BEWARE THE BEAR (3.20) can make it a red letter day for the Henderson yard by scooping the At The Races Rehearsal Chase.
This traditionally strong 3m handicap has cut up to a field of only eight and it’s hard to see Beware The Bear not being involved in the finish.
The seven-year-old gelding hasn’t many miles on the clock but ran up a winning four-race sequence, including two novice chases at Ascot and Newbury.
Beware The Bear was a tad disappointing in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March but should relish the testing ground as he won his maiden at Bangor by 29 lengths on heavy.
Venetia Williams landed this valuable prize last year with Otago Trail and relies on confirmed mudlark Yala Enki.
Newbury 3.0 – Whisper ew 8-1 Ladbrokes
Newbury 3.0 – Cogry ew 20-1 bet365
Newbury 1.50 – Old Guard ew 7-1 William Hill
Newbury 2.25 – Charli Parcs 3-1 Skybet
Newbury 12.45 – Black Corton 7-4 Skybet
Newcastle 3.20 – Beware The Bear 4-1 Betfred