I had a write up all ready to go for my @EasyOdds column this week, but connections decided to run this potential selection in the 2m4f Handicap Chase at Newbury on Friday rather than the race on Saturday, so I thought I’d share my full thoughts with you all here as he is a strong selection. Good luck!
Friday 26th November
14:25 – Handicap Chase (Class 2) – 2m4f
This 2m4f Handicap Chase has been a strong contest over the past few years, with Aso, Oldgrangewood and Clondaw Castle all good Horses in their own right. Despite the lack of recent rain in England another decent entry has been attracted, but I have quite a strong fancy for the race.
Harry Fry does well at Newbury, with his record since 2012 reading 20 wins from 94 runners (21.3% strike rate), and he looks to have a perfect candidate for this 2m4f Handicap Chase in Phoenix Way.
Starting off by looking at the trends, in the past 5 renewals of this race 4 of the winners have been aged 8 years old, whilst the average official rating of a winner over the same period comes out as 144.6 – so clearly Phoenix Way fits both criteria perfectly.
Phoenix Way is extremely lightly raced for an 8yo Chaser, as he’s only ever had 8 runs in his life – starting out by bolting up in an Irish P2P at Killeagh by 12 lengths. Picked up for £270,000 by JP McManus shortly after, Phoenix Way managed to rack up 3 runs as a Novice Hurdler when sent to Harry Fry – with his first success coming at Plumpton in January 2019 when beating Third Wind (Now a 152 rated Hurdler).
Connections gave Phoenix Way a wind operation in the meantime, but he wasn’t seen on track for 383 days after that Plumpton victory – finally returning to the track at Huntingdon in January 2020 for a Class 2 Pertemps Qualifier Handicap Hurdle. An opening Handicap mark of 133 proved to be no bother for this long absentee as he sluiced through the field on the bridle – given a very cheeky ride by Barry Geraghty when only winning by a head, but having bundles left in hand.
Clearly he’s hard to keep sound as another lengthy absence followed that Huntingdon victory, but after 299 days he finally made his Chase debut at Warwick last November. Dropping all the way back in trip to 2m, I remember at the time thinking he’d have no chance over a trip that short – but again he was fairly well supported in the market. Showing stamina in abundance, Phoenix Way came there swinging rounding the home bend and then was forced to stick on for pressure – and he just got up in the final strides to beat Stratagem (143) by a neck, despite giving that rival the 7lbs 4yo allowance.
That was a top opening effort over fences to beat a useful type over an inadequate trip, but I think it may have given connections a bit of false hope – as they decided to line him up in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown over 1m7½f. He looked completely out of his comfort zone in a race of that sort of pace however, and after a series of mistakes he was pulled up two from home. He did have a valid excuse from the Vet after the race though, as it emerged that he had burst a blood vessel.
Not seen for another 124 days, Phoenix Way was given his chance in the Grade 1 Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree in April, and this time he looked far more comfortable, despite the strong field. Held up out the back, Phoenix Way jumped much better and travelled strongly – making good headway into 4th place in the home straight. He couldn’t go on with the leaders after the last, but this Harry Fry charge came home well for 4th – only 10 lengths off the 3rd.
That form looks very strong with the winner being recent Paddy Power 2nd Protektorat (158), whilst the 2nd was Cheltenham Festival winner The Shunter (153), and the 3rd was recent Haldon Gold Cup 2nd Hitman (154). Even when you look at the Horses who finished behind Phoenix Way it looks like a strong piece of form, as he had the Haldon Gold Cup winner Eldorado Allen (155) 3.5 lengths behind, and David Pipe’s Umbrigado (146) – who had won the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury off 144 on his previous start – was a further 22 lengths adrift. Whilst some of that form can’t be taken completely literally, I think Phoenix Way ran a lovely race, and it makes his mark of 144 look within his reach.
Phoenix Way was due to run in a Galway conditions Chase in July when very well backed from 7/1 into 3/1, but he was pulled out on the count of the Good ground. That could be a blessing really as this Horse is clearly best seen when fresh. When having his first run of the season Phoenix Way’s current record reads 511, and Harry Fry has been quoted in recent stable tours that he also thinks he runs best when fresh, so it makes sense that connections have targeted this valuable Newbury Handicap, and with the presence of the 151 rated Fanion D’Estruval, Phoenix Way will only have to carry 11st5lbs. I think he has a massive chance back over this 2m4f trip considering how unexposed he is, and a recent second wind-operation should also enhance his chances.
15:35 – Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) – 3m
The final race of Newbury’s Friday card sees a big field of 15 go to post for a 3m Handicap Hurdle, but I quite like the chances of Philip Hobbs’ One For You. This 6yo really developed from an average Novice Hurdler into a decent Handicapper in a short space of time last season, and there should still be plenty of improvement left in his current Handicap mark.
A 4th place on Hurdles debut at Kempton over 2m5f was nothing special, but he did run much better at Doncaster on this day 12 months ago – contesting another 2m5f Novice Hurdle, but this time finishing just 3.75 lengths 4th behind the seemingly precocious Bobhopeornohope (126), despite hanging badly right in the home straight having lost his left fore shoe. Regardless of running green, One For You was very eye-catching when storming home late in the day, and the Horse he got his head in front to beat was Olly Murphy’s subsequent winner Grandads Cottage (128).
For some reason connections dropped him back to 2m3½f at Hereford for another Novice Hurdle a couple weeks later, but he returned a new Horse 82 days later in the Spring. Running in a first time Handicap off a mark of 112, One For You really appreciated stepping back up to 2m5f, and he went on to win cosily in a first time tongue-tie – staying on really strongly to beat Winged Isle (121) by 2.75 lengths and Glory And Honour (126) by a further half length.
Backing that form up again on his next start, One For You Stepped up in trip to 2m7f at Market Rasen 20 days later, and again he appreciated the increase in distance. It was quite a decent Handicap for the time of year, but One For You defied a mark of 118 with another stamina ladened performance – gamely seeing off the late challenge of Highway One O One (127), when also having recent impressive winner Fantastikas (128 Hurdler, 136 Chaser) 4.75 lengths back in 3rd place.
Making his seasonal reappearance at the beginning of this month, One For You ran in the 3m Pertemps Qualifier over this course and distance. Sent off a similar price to what he is for this contest, One For You looked to have a good chance off a mark of 123, and again he ran a nice race. Ridden along for an effort, this 6yo picked up well to only be about half a length behind the leader at the final flight, but he just kept on at the one pace thereafter to take 3rd place. That was a solid opening effort behind Stoney Mountain (141) who has since finished 4th in the Grade 3 Stayers Handicap Hurdle at Haydock, and the 2nd Didtheleaveuoutto is now rated 135 over Hurdles.
It looked to my eye that One For You would come on plenty for that opening effort, and if he does then he should have a fantastic chance back at Newbury on Friday – as the Handicapper has left him alone on that mark of 123. The slight ease in going to good-to-soft should also enhance his chances on this occasion, and although a bigger field will line up, now connections have qualified him for the Pertemps Final they will be needing to go up about 10lbs in the Handicap in order to get a run in that race at the Cheltenham Festival.