John Constable hoping to paint perfect picture on opening day of bet365 Festival

Newbury’s three-day bet365 Festival starts tomorrow, Thursday, November 26, with a seven-race programme headlined by the £45,000 Listed bet365 Intermediate Hurdle (3.15pm, seven runners).

The two-mile limited handicap, registered as the Gerry Feilden Hurdle, was won by subsequent Champion Hurdle hero Rock On Ruby in 2011.

The weights are jointly-topped by French import Ch’Tibello (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton), runner-up to subsequent Grade Two scorer Altior at Ascot last time out, and the returning John Constable (Evan Williams/Paul Moloney).

John Constable was a 94-rated performer on the Flat for Aidan O’Brien and made the successful transition to hurdles last term. The four-year-old captured a juvenile hurdle at Ludlow in January and returned from a short-break to easily win a two-mile novices’ hurdle by five lengths at Huntingdon in April.

Williams said today: “John Constable has had a grand preparation. I just never thought we would be lumbered with top-weight in a race like this after winning two small hurdle races.

Value At Risk

“To be honest, I don’t know how we have earned the right to carry top-weight. It is difficult to know what to expect and it might be that he is facing an impossible task on his seasonal reappearance.
“The ground is going to be quite testing. I don’t know if that will count for us or against us, but, with a four-year-old carrying all that weight in testing conditions, I don’t think it will be in our favour.”

San Benedeto (Paul Nicholls/Sam Twiston-Davies) drops back in trip under a 6lb penalty after capturing a two and a half mile handicap hurdle at Wincanton last week, while Wilberdragon (Charlie Longsdon/Tom Cannon) is out to build on a promising comeback at Ascot last month.

The line-up is completed by Grade Three Swinton Handicap Hurdle third Song Light (Seamus Mullins/Kevin Jones), improving five-year-old Kapstadt (Ian Williams/Will Kennedy), who has won three of his last four starts over obstacles, and bottom-weight Sternrubin (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson).

Un Temps Pour Tout (David Pipe/Tom Scudamore), winner of the French Champion Hurdle in June, features among an excellent field for the £35,000 Grade Two bet365 Novices’ Chase (2.10pm, seven runners) over just short of three miles.

Those in opposition include Exeter scorer Native River (Colin Tizzard/Brendan Powell), Beast Of Burden (Rebecca Curtis/Paul Townend) and chasing debutant Value At Risk (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton – pictured above), who dazzled over hurdles at Newbury last season before taking fifth in the Grade One Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Racing gets underway at 12.30pm and concludes at 3.50pm.

The bet365 Festival concludes on Saturday, November 28, when the highlight is the £200,000 Grade Three Hennessy Gold Cup. The final declaration stage for the three and a quarter mile handicap is at 10.00am tomorrow, November 26.