Le Bon to light up stage at Newbury

Top trainers' seasons can be shaped by performances at unpredictable meeting

Some of the biggest guns in jump racing are about to be rolled into position, prompting both apprehension and excitement among the top brass. In Britain, five-star generals such as Paul Nicholls know that the course of their campaigns could be largely determined by events at Newbury over the next three afternoons, and Newcastle on Saturday; while the stakes will be correspondingly high, over in Ireland, when Dunguib tops the bill at Fairyhouse on Sunday.

Admittedly, the Hennessy meeting – or Newbury Winter Festival, as we are now supposed to call it – has a low-key start, with only four horses contesting the day's biggest prize. Unsurprisingly, the most interesting of them is stabled with the champion trainer. Michel Le Bon has long promised to come into his own over fences, and should duly narrow the gap in the GPG Novices' Chase with Pettifour – a superior hurdler but not terribly convincing on his own chasing debut, again in a small field, at Cheltenham 12 days ago.

Nicholls, so relieved to see Kauto Star win that photo at Haydock last weekend, wheels out his other Gold Cup winner in the Hennessy itself on Saturday. In both style and substance, Denman represents heavy artillery in a pretty literal sense, and yesterday his part-owner, Harry Findlay, was sounding optimistic that he might find an immediate range. Nicholls himself has cautioned that Denman, under top weight, will probably be running for "fourth or fifth", preferring the claims of What A Friend. But in his own professional judgement, as a gambler, Findlay feels that Denman's task might have been overstated.

"People keep telling me it's the best Hennessy in years," Findlay said. "But I'm not quite so sure. To my eye, What A Friend looks more of a hurdler-chaser than a chaser, and I think that type of horses can get caught out in this race. Carruthers is better going the other way round, and I don't think Barbers Shop will stay up the straight – I don't think he'll stick it. So to me, in terms of opposition, I have to say that Denman – if he is back – would have to be a major contender. But all due respect to Paul. I can see where he's coming from, and perhaps he's training him to win the Gold Cup. Nothing Denman might do would surprise me. He's impossible to price up. But we'll know soon enough on Saturday. After six fences, he'll either be 6-4 or 20-1."

This uncertainty can be condensed by comparing Denman this time last year, when recuperating from a cardiac problem, and Denman two years ago, when he romped away with the Hennessy as an emerging champion. But Findlay insists the camp has no regrets over the way they were seduced into running at Aintree, where he fell heavily, following his sudden revival behind Kauto Star in the Gold Cup.

"Far from it," he said. "Once he'd run so well at Cheltenham, and come out of the race so well, he had to go. I was looking at it again the other day and in my opinion he would have won, anyway, had he not come down – just knowing his personality, and seeing how he'd struggled through the race, and the fact he was still level. So no regrets, or at least not once he'd stood up. Life's too short for regrets."

Incidentally Findlay – who has greatly expanded his string, both on the Flat and over jumps – had no hesitation when asked to suggest another name to watch this winter. "Beshabar," he said. "A great big chestnut I bought off Nick Williams, who won the big novices' handicap at Sandown. I'm really looking forward to seeing his first chase at Chepstow on Saturday week. He's had a year out, but I think he'll be straight enough."

Another absence was prolonged yesterday when the scheduled chasing debut of Captain Cee Bee – who beat Binocular at the Festival in their novice season over timber – was washed out along with the rest of the card at Naas. Not that he is embracing a predictable discipline. Yesterday only three runners took part in a novice chase at Wetherby, but independent falls four out left the only one who had no chance, Passport Control, to finish alone.

Turf account: Chris McGrath

Nap

Brimham Boy (2.30 Uttoxeter) Worth taking a chance that he handles this softer ground, so well did he shape on his first start for a flourishing yard – against a rival successful twice since – at Lingfield earlier this month.

Next best

Bennelong (7.30 Kempton) Did not progress during the summer but immediately promised better on his course-and-distance debut for Gary Moore, always going sweetly but short of room before flying home in second.

One to watch

Sumak (Ferdy Murphy) was ultimately beaten a long way in his third start over hurdles at Aintree on Sunday, but again showed ability and cannot be given too stiff a mark when turning to handicaps.

Where the money's going

Bellvano, a smart bumper horse with imminent entries over hurdles, was widely backed yesterday for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March – Totesport going 16-1 from 25-1.

Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football
News
news
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
Melissa and Joan Rivers together at an NBC event in May 2014
peopleDaughter Melissa thanks fans for 'outpouring of support'
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
life
Life and Style
One in six drivers cannot identify a single one of the main components found under the bonnet of an average car
motoringOne in six drivers can't carry out basic under-bonnet checks
News
i100
Voices
Pupils educated at schools like Eton (pictured) are far more likely to succeed in politics and the judiciary, the report found
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash
tvSimon Cowell blasts BBC for breaking 'gentlemen's agreement' in scheduling war
News
peopleWrestling veteran drifting in and out of consciousness
Arts and Entertainment
Shady character: Jon Hamm as sports agent JB Bernstein in Million Dollar Arm
filmReview: Jon Hamm finally finds the right role on the big screen in Million Dollar Arm
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst,HR,Halifax,£400-450pd

£400 - £450 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Project Coordinator - Cisco Partner - £110 p/d

£110 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Project Coordinator (SC Cleared), Cisco Go...

Recruitment Consultants - IT - Trainee / Experienced

£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £40-50K first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

Primary teachers needed for supply in Huntingdon

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Primary teachers need...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone