The Totesport Trophy at Newbury is the richest handicap hurdle in the UK and Saturday's race is a typically competitive contest. Essex has been the ante-post favourite since winning the Pierse Hurdle at Leopardstown and a win on Saturday would put this Irish Cesarewitch winner into the reckoning for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
However, another Irish raider is fancied to win on Saturday. Al Eile could only manage third behind Essex last time out, but should be suited by the likely stronger pace and better ground. Four horses since 1996 have lost in Ireland but won at Newbury, and Al Eile, backable at each-way prices, is good enough to claim a place. The Game Spirit Chase pits Arkle winner Well Chief against two-mile champion Azertyuiop. In the Tingle Creek at Sandown, Azertyuiop found Moscow Flyer too good but Well Chief was only a short head away from his rival at level weights. Today he has a 4lb advantage and that is enough to give him the edge.
The Aon Chase is fascinating. When Strong Flow destroyed his rivals in the 2003 Hennessy Gold Cup, he looked a worldbeater, but has since been injured. It would be wonderful to see him bounce back, but horses rarely do. This year's Hennessy winner Celestial Gold looks a better proposition.
2:25: Celestial Gold (win)
3:00: Al Eile (each-way)
3:35: Well Chief (win)