Newbury best bets (1405): Hitman targets hot-favourite Shishkin in Denman Chase
Five high-quality runners line up for the Denman Chase in one of the last recognised Gold Cup trials, which could indicate who might be in shape to challenge for the Cheltenham Festival showpiece.
14:05 Newbury: Betfair Denman Chase (2 miles 7½ furlongs)
While Protektorat has proven himself impressively this term, and gave L’Homme Presse a run for his money in the Fleur De Lys Chase at Lingfield last month, he will surely have to give second-best to Shishkin here, providing Nicky Henderson’s 10-year-old can deliver a trouble-free round.
Second behind an inspired Envoi Allen in last season’s Ryanair, Shishkin finished his campaign by landing the Aintree Bowl, having already seen off the highly-rated Pic D’Orhy by 16 lengths in the Ascot Chase two months earlier.
Planet Sport Bet Daily Special: Bet £20+ cash on any runner in the race and if Shishkin wins by more than 10 lengths, get a £5 Free Bet
Why he flat-out refused to race on his reappearance at Ascot in November remains a mystery, while a couple of weather-affected cancellations meant his tilt at the King George on Boxing Day was his season debut.
Nevertheless an impressive display put the race seemingly at his mercy, before he unfortunately caught himself two out and parted company with Nico de Boinville, but there’s no doubting that a clear round makes him the one to beat here.
Suggested best bet: Shishkin to win the 14:05 at Newbury
The two market leaders look an obvious choice for a short-priced forecast, but Sam Brown has attracted some interest in the market, while it would be unwise to discount the threat of Hitman, or indeed of any horse currently emerging from the Paul Nicholls stable.
He started this race as the 9/4 favourite a year ago, and although unable to land the odds behind Zanza (with Does He Know and Sam Brown in behind), his campaign plan will again have had this renewal as one of the targets.
A poor run in the Old Roan at Aintree in November necessitated a fourth breathing operation, and his return at Cheltenham two weeks ago must have been a successful enough pipe-opener for him to be sent here again.
Harry Cobden was busy elsewhere that day, but the in-form jockey returns here fresh from a couple of successes for Ben Pauling at Huntingdon on Wednesday, and it would be no surprise to see him in contention on the run-in at a decent price.
Outsider punt: Hitman in the 14:05 at Newbury