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Horse Racing: HOBBS HOLDS VC KEY WITH KALCA MOME; And keep a close eye on Offemont.

Byline: DAVE NEVISON

KALCA MOME did us a big favour when he won at Cheltenham earlier in the season and he can do us another one at Newbury this afternoon in the VC Casino.com Gold Cup.

His form dipped a little after that victory but his effort last time out at Chepstow showed he was coming back to his best. Never nearer than at the line that day, he stayed on purposely up the long straight and today's extra furlong plus a whopping 20lbs pull in the weights should see him reverse the form with Nozic.

Paul Nicholls' charge will be a big danger but there are definitely at least two other runners who may be better handicapped than the six-year-old.

Marcel has been called many names in the past but few horses will ever achieve his strike rate and he cannot really be faulted on his last two efforts. I also believe he could now be on the verge of reaching the same heights over fences as he did over the smaller obstacles.

David Pipe's stable is certainly in form at present as is Venetia Williams' who runs Flying Enterprise, an absolute model of consistency all season who lost nothing in defeat when beaten by the progressive Prior's Dale in novice company last time out.

Hobbs also runs Supreme Prince and this would be a truly remarkable comeback story if he won.

The gelding landed the two-and-a-half-mile race in 2005 and was due to be retired at the end of last season after a string of poor performances.

However, owners David and Karola Vann had a rethink after the 10-year-old notched an easy win over this trip at Ayr last April.

He duly made his seasonal debut last month in an Ascot hurdle and although only ninth, it was a good effort.

Supreme Prince will strip a lot fitter for the run and although he is up 9lb on that Ayr victory, he is only 3lb worse off than when landing this prize back in 2005.

This is the most competitive handicap steeplechase run before the Cheltenham Festival and it will certainly be a boost for my first day bankers Detroit City and Fair Along if Philip Hobbs could collect with KALCA MOME(3.15).

He will definitely be an each-way price and could represent real value in a very competitive event.

Talking about Hobbs, the most significant piece of Cheltenham news I received this week - and it doesn't as yet seem to be common knowledge - is that the trainer is more than keen to run Fair Along in the County Hurdle. At first I thought this meant that he wouldn't line-up in the Arkle and I was gutted. But apparently my fancy is down to run in both races.

While I feel this is one of the boldest Festival attacks I have heard of I, like the trainer, cannot see a downside to the plan. Fair Along has got 10-7 in the County which is a perfect weight and with Harry Findlay's horse set to keep so many of the runners out of the weights Hobbs' ace could be a handicap blot, especially as his mark has not been raised since his juvenile hurdle days and that form has been boosted all season.

I have taken some of the 20-1 outright and also some of the 12-1 'with a run' that is available because if he does go, I could see Fair Along going off a 5-1 shot for the County. He could turn out to be the best handicap bet at Prestbury Park and I certainly recommend an interest, either a brave one at a big price or one 'with a run' as I believe that when this news gets out he will definitely shorten up.

Back to this afternoon and though the cards are very trappy they definitely have a look of a warm-up to the big event about them. Noel Chance has his horses in good form and had his first winner at Newbury yesterday courtesy of Signs Of Love.

I fancy him for a quick double via OFFEMENT who is down to run in the 3.30 at Kempton with the 2.10 at Newbury the trainer's second preference.

This one was seriously impressive last time when he made all under top weight in a similar race at Warwick.

Blinkers have been the key to this performer and have somehow brought about a great improvement in his jumping. He is such a good looking horse that I expect connections are slightly disappointed that he has not quite made Festival standard this time round. But he certainly will do next year if he continues to progress.

Should Offemont stick to Kempton, then OFFICIER DE RESERVE could be the answer to the Newbury race. Nicholls' runner is apparently on his way to the Jewson Chase the week after next but he certainly needs jumping experience as he gave his supporters a real fright at the last when winning on his only start to date in this country at Hereford.

He could be the real deal and must surely figure in the shake-up.

The fields at Kempton aren't the biggest but are very difficult nevertheless and it is probably worth taking a chance with IL DUCE (2.55) to bounce back from two uninispiring efforts.

A useful individual, it looked as though his chasing career would be an improvement on his time over hurdles when he won his first two starts and finished third to Denman and Don't Push It at the Paddy Power meeting.

Since then, however, he has got bogged down in the mud at Warwick and then fell early here last time. A combination of weaker opposition, better ground and a serious return to form by the Alan King stable must surely mean he is a good bet to beat Dancing Bay.

Nicky Henderson's runner didn't look in love with the chasing game on his most recent outing at Fakenham when he was the beneficiary of the leader's final flight fall. Il Duce is put up as the best bet on a very tricky card.

Kelso punters looking to back a good thing should look no further than WAKING NED (5.00). I was mega impressed with this horse when I was up at Sedgefield last week and if anything he is up against weaker opposition in the novices' hunter chase at the borders venue.

True, Waking Ned won't get you a holiday in the Bahamas as he will be a warmorder. But if he stands up, he will win.

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HOBBS: Trains Kalca Mome
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 3, 2007
Words:1103
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