ANDREW BALDING'S Briareus (3.10) represents an excellent each-way value bet at around 16-1 for Newbury's totesport Trophy Hurdle.

The £125,000 two-miler is one of the most sought-after handicaps and commensurate with its status, National Hunt superpowers such as Martin Pipe, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson all go in mob-handed.

But Balding, no stranger to success on the premier stage, isn't afraid to take on the big boys, especially with the likes of Briareus, whose all-Flat pedigree is perfect for the predicted fast ground.

Having recorded a wide-margin course-and-distance success last year, Balding clearly pencilled in today's valuable race as a potential target for his unexposed gelding.

However, as is often the case with the best plans of mice and men, there has been a minor blip, namely the fact Briareus flopped in a similarly competitive Sandown event last time out.

Excusing the odd bad run has always been the policy of this column and in any event the soggy surface the selection encountered was almost certainly to blame for that poor performance.

Due to be partnered by Thomas Greenall, who learned the hard way here on the tough northern circuit under the stewardship of Mick Easterby, Briareus is set to get every assistance from his brilliant young rider.

Keith Reveley's Hidden Bounty (2.05) has an awesome task to defy top-weight in the totescoop6 Handicap Hurdle, though he'll also handle the quick underfoot conditions.

It was pretty pathetic of the official handicapper to stuff Hidden Bounty up 4lbs for finishing second at Wetherby.

This was the sort of demoralising hike which can put owners off for good instead of maintaining the lifeblood of the industry.

The Lingdale-trained ten-year-old has certainly been made to suffer for his consistency, yet might still play a leading role in the three-mile event judged on his superb track-and-trip third in November.

Warwick's meeting features the leading Cheltenham Festival fancy, Black Jack Ketchum (2.55), taken out of his intended engagement at Bangor yesterday.

Barring accidents, it will be a veritable stroll in the park for Jonjo O'Neill's Star, even though ideally the unbeaten seven-year-old would prefer a slightly longer trip

Having patiently waited for Venetia Williams to step Woody Valentine up in distance, it was a pleasant surprise to see the chestnut has, in addition, been dropped 4lbs.

It's a bit of a stab in the dark, although hopefully the combined effect of the aforementioned assists will help Woody Valentine (3.25) make a welcome return to the winners' enclosure.

The £35,000 Kingmaker Novices' Chase tops the bill at the Midlands venue, a contest in which Voy Por Ustedes (2.20) bids to complete a four-timer.

Alan King's progressive gelding posted an impressive time when collecting over course and distance in November, a victory that none of his five rivals have achieved in terms of sheer quality.

Given the very real possibility all three jumps fixtures could fall to the frost, Lingfield and Wolverhampton's might stage the only action of the day.

Neither is it all low-grade dross, because to their credit Lingfield showpcase the ten-furlong £25,000 Betdirect Freephone Handicap.

With the exception of the outclassed Takes Tutu, plus Lygeton Lad, not certain to stay, the other seven are extremely closely matched and therefore Bravo Maestro (3.35) is a tentative choice.

Nick Littmoden's gelding dual scorer is sky-high on confidence. Couple this with the presence of teenage sensation James Doyle aboard and supporters are entitled to be optimistic.

Metaphorically speaking, the last word goes to Wolverhampton, where out-of-luck afternoon punters should play their "get out of jail" card on Poppys Footprint (9.00), a well-handicapped filly with a decent low draw.

* Janus rewarded his supporters with a cracking 5-1 winning nap, Calvic, at Bangor yesterday.

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