Hales eyeing Betfair Denman Chase for Unioniste, Sire De Grugy heads Betfair Price Rush Chase half dozen

Unioniste (Paul Nicholls, 5/1 with Betfair Sportsbook) is set to contest the £50,000 Grade 2 Betfair Denman Chase (2.25pm), run over three miles at Newbury on Betfair Super Saturday, February 7.

The seven-year-old steps up in class after a decisive 10-length victory in a valuable three-mile handicap chase at Sandown Park on January 3. The John Hales-owned grey started the campaign with a good sixth to Many Clouds in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November.

Unioniste won on Betfair Super Saturday at Newbury in 2013, getting the better of Hadrian’s Approach by a head in a novices’ chase over three miles.

John Hales said today: “The plan is to run Unioniste in the Betfair Denman Chase.

“He ran a really encouraging race in the Hennessy and won very well at Sandown last time. He seems to be on an upward curve which is good going into the weekend.

“I think he is ready for the step back up in class. It is a level weights race and that will tell us how much he has progressed, but he deserves to take his chance – I don’t think there is any doubt about that.

“There is a lot of interest in him about the Grand National but we are worried about what weight he will get.

“I think people would like to see him there judging by articles I have read. The public love to see a grey horse in the Grand National but it will all depend on whether or not he is given a realistic chance.

“If we think he is then we will probably have a crack at it, but if he is given too much weight we will bypass it this year and wait until he is an eight-year-old.”

It could be a red-letter day for Hales who also owns Fascino Rustico, a leading contender for the in the £155,000 Grade Three Betfair Hurdle (3.35pm), Britain’s richest handicap hurdle. The seven-year-old is two from two since switching to Warwickshire handler Dan Skelton, most recently taking a two-mile novices’ hurdle at Newcastle by nine lengths on January 28.

Fascino Rustico is a 12/1 shot with Betfair Sportsbook.

Hales continued: “Fascino Rustico has had two runs for Dan (Skelton) and won both. He is well-handicapped and I think he would have a sporting chance of doing well.

“He is on upward curve, his form is good and, off the weight he has got, I would like to think he will be able to finish well up the field.”

Unioniste’s potential opponents in the Betfair Denman Chase could include last year’s winner Harry Topper (Kim Bailey, 8/1) and Houblon Des Obeaux (Venetia Williams, 3/1 joint-favouite), who was runner-up to Many Clouds under top-weight of 11st 12lb in the Hennessy Gold Cup.

Jonjo O’Neill has entered a pair of Cheltenham Festival winners in Holywell (3/1 joint-favourite) and Taquin Du Seuil (6/1), while Mark Bradstock has engaged the very exciting novice Coneygree (5/1), who scored over two and a half miles at Newbury in the Grade Two Fuller’s London Pride Novices’ Chase on November 28 before easily annexing the Grade One Feltham Novices’ Chase over three miles at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.

Other entries include Double Ross (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 14/1), a dual Grade Three winner at Cheltenham last season, Rajdhani Express (Nicky Henderson, 10/1), a close third in the 2014 Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham and Itoldyou (Linda Jewell, 100/1), who proved he has stamina in abundance when landing the Sussex National at Plumpton on January 4.

The Betfair Denman Chase – Betfair Sportsbook Betting: 3/1 Houblon des Obeaux, Holywell; 5/1 Coneygree, Unioniste; 6/1 Taquin Du Seuil; 8/1 Harry Topper; 10/1 Rajdhani Express; 14/1 Double Ross; 100/1 Itoldyou 3 PLACES 1/5 ODDS

Sire De Grugy (11/8 favourite with Betfair Sportbook) will face a maximum of five rivals in the £50,000 Grade Two Betfair Price Rush Chase (3.00pm), run over two miles and a furlong at Newbury on Betfair Super Saturday, February 7.

The Gary Moore-trained nine-year-old was the stunning six-length of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last season but has not been seen out since winning a Grade One contest at Sandown Park in April after a setback.

Sire De Grugy’s opponents could include two challengers from the yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls – Mr Mole (4/1), who has won both his starts over fences this season and the very smart novice Vibrato Valtat (9/2), who landed the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park in and the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park, both in December.

J P McManus, owner of Mr Mole, also has the Grade One Uxizandre (Alan King, 100/30) among the entries. Karinga Dancer (Harry Fry, 25/1) and Upsilon Bleu (Pauline Robson, 8/1) complete the potential line-up.

Betfair Price Rush Chase – Betfair Sportsbook Betting: 11/8 Sire De Grugy, 100/30 Uxizandre, 4/1 Mr Mole, 9/2 Vibrato Valtat, 8/1 Upslion Bleu, 25/1 Karinga Dancer 2 PLACES 1/4 ODDS

The going at Newbury is currently Soft all over (from Good to Soft, Soft in places).

The course has been covered since last Thursday, January 29.

Richard Osgood, Clerk of the Course at Newbury, said today: “There was three centimetres of snow overnight.

“Temperatures have risen today and the snow has already thawed out on the parts of the course which are not covered. With the snow melting, we are now soft all over.

“With the current forecast predicting daytime temperatures well above freezing for the remainder of the week, we remain extremely hopeful of racing going ahead on Betfair Super Saturday.”