Denman needs Arkle-type performance to win

I THINK it will take an extraordinary display by Denman if he is to defy top weight in the Hennessy at Newbury today.

We all know he had a heart scare last September 12 months and performed poorly afterwards at Kempton.

He went to the Cheltenham Gold Cup under a cloud, but ran a blinder to finish 13 lengths second behind Kauto Star and myself.

Denman then finished a traumatic campaign, taking a heavy fall at Aintree when challenging Madison Du Berlais.

He has recovered really well from all of his problems, is in great form at home and showing plenty.

He won this two years ago, giving plenty of weight to middling horses, but this is a way stiffer task.

For one thing, he is now 13lbs higher and has to concede lumps of weight to very useful sorts, such as Barbers Shop, State Of Play and Snowy Morning.

I’d say most of you reading this will have never seen Arkle and I wouldn’t for a second attempt to mention Denman in the same breath as the great one.

What I will say, however, is that if Denman can win off 11-12 it will be the closest you will have seen to an Arkle-type performance.

I’m a realist and believe if he finishes in the first three or four it will be a mighty effort.

Paul Nicholls is anticipating a bold showing from French-import Highest Start in the first, a novice hurdle.

He was last seen finishing third in a Listed race on the level at Saint-Cloud back in June, over a mile and seven furlongs.

Maybe, you could argue he will want further than two miles over flights, but Newbury is a long straight and that’s not a concern.

I’ve never sat on him, but I’m told he’s schooled nicely and they think he is a good horse. Paul likes him a lot.

Fistral Beach has plenty to prove first time over fences, in a handicap chase, and on the back of being most disappointing last season.

But don’t dismiss him lightly, because he has strengthened up plenty and has summered and schooled excellently.

Big Buck’s, the best stayers around right now, tries for a five-timer in the three mile hurdle. He could hardly have done his job any better last season, finishing with brilliant successes at Cheltenham and Aintree.

Logically, he is head and shoulders over this opposition, but there is the possibility he might just be vulnerable.

In England they go a right gallop in these races and you have to be very fit to deliver. Big Buck’s has “bigger’’ fish to fry down the line, so I hope his class will see him through.

Pasco has a solid chance in a competitive handicap chase, having over-jumped and parted company with Sam Thomas at Kempton, when in front. He has won over hurdles and fences at Newbury before.

Shamari seems one of my weaker rides of the day, in a handicap hurdle, and I’m not expecting him to send me spinning back to Ireland in a blaze of glory.

If I don’t finish with a winner at Newbury, neither do I think I’ll start with one at Fairyhouse tomorrow.

Dooneys Gate’s prospects aren’t too obvious in a handicap chase, on the basis the trip is simply too short.

You would have to an optimist as well to think Alice Bradys Call capable of taking the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle.

It’s all about Dunguib and just how good he might prove to be. I wasn’t convinced by him, for some reason, at Punchestown last time, so this is going to be interesting.

There are three Grade 1’s on the card and Alpha Ridge, in the Drinmore, looks my best opportunity of grabbing one of them.

I’ve ridden against him often enough to know he’s a fine stayer, but this is wide open and two and a half miles is probably on the short side.

I’m hopeful of a decent effort by Shakervilz in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle. He seems to go best fresh, bolting in first time out last season at Thurles.

Shuil Aris has had more problems than the people in the west of Ireland and it is hard to know what she will produce in the mares chase.

I’ll be disappointed if Lochan Lacha isn’t on the premises in the weekend finale, a three mile handicap hurdle.

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