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A victory for Poppy Kay and a healthy each-way return on Alfie Spinner helped reduce our losses to a minimum last week, although we were left with a feeling of what might have been as we had no less than five seconds on the day.
Hopefully, we enjoy a little bit more luck this week as we preview eight races from Saturday’s meetings at Kempton, Warwick and Wetherby. That includes a trends-based preview of the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton (2.40) as well as an analysis of the Betfred Classic Chase at Warwick (3.35), won last year by subsequent Grand National winner One For Arthur.
Authors – Mike White (MP), Dan Tory (DT), Eddy Arthur (EA) and myself (AF)
1.30 Kempton – 32Red Download The App Handicap Chase (MW)
Bishops Court heads the weights for this one and comes into the race off the back of a win over two miles in heavy ground at Wincanton. The combination of the softer ground and drop in trip seemed to work the oracle for this horse, so much so that it’s a surprise to see him back up to two and a half miles on what should be a good surface. His rider that day also claimed 5lb off his back so he was effectively running off a mark of 125 – he now must shoulder top weight in a better race off a mark of 137, meaning he’s running off what would be 12lb higher. While Noel Fehily is certainly worth the extra 5lb in the saddle, the combination of the better ground, a better race and a hike in the weights to a career-high mark could anchor him this time.
Another horse coming into the race off the back of a win is the Jonjo O’Neill-trained The Tailgater, who made a successful seasonal reappearance at Doncaster in conditions that should be similar to these. The switch to fences has seen him improve and the excellent handling of Jonjo Jr, whose 7lb claim is a complete gift for such a talented pilot, is certainly a positive. However, he’s gone up 4lb in the weights for beating a fairly modest rival (rated 115) by less than a length and this is a more competitive affair – he’ll have to improve plenty to be going in again, although it’s not out of the question for a seven-year-old with just three starts over fences to his name.
Amy Murphy’s MERCIAN PRINCE was last seen running well to the second last in the Grand Sefton before weakening to almost a walk in some horrendous conditions. That effort is forgiven easily due to the state of the ground and how well he ran for a long way, so this return to decent ground and slightly easier company should produce a decent effort if that run hasn’t taken too much out of him. He’s been dropped a pound in the weights to 134 and that could just tip the scales in the horse’s favour – he ran a good race on his seasonal reappearance at Stratford behind the ill-fated Starchitect off 135. This track and trip should suit MERCIAN PRINCE well and this race does look a step below the quality of the contests he’s been running in recently so it seems a good opportunity to get back into the winners’ enclosure for the first time since January.
Breath Of Blighty enjoys this C&D, as seen when winning back in April in a novices’ handicap chase off a mark of 115, and his latest run here in November was also a good one, just beaten by Play The Ace off that same mark. He was two and a half lengths ahead of Bishops Court that day on 3lb worse terms so has a good chance of beating that rival home again here today. However, his mark of 119 is a career-high and there’s no guarantee that the cheekpieces applied the last day will help him to progress again. I’ve always had an issue with horses going up in the weights for not winning, so Paul Webber’s charge is passed over too.
Second in this race to Foxtail Hill last season, the Chris Gordon-trained Rothman hasn’t been seen over fences since September, instead running a series of decent races in handicap hurdles over the winter so far off lower marks. However, he’s back over the bigger obstacles now and off a 5lb lower mark than when second in this last year. On that alone, he’ll have a decent chance, but he has seemed to have regressed a little in those 12 months, finding one or two too good even in lower-grade hurdle races so he’ll have to rediscover his best to go well again here.
MERCIAN PRINCE – 1pt win @ 5/1 (bet365)
2.25 Warwick – Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (Series Qualifier) (AF)
These qualifiers for the Pertemps Final are often competitive and this looks no different as a case can be made for most of the field here.
The weights are headed by Prime Venture made a winning reappearance at Ffos Las back in November. Evan Williams’ seven-year-old was much too good for his rivals that day but the handicapper took notice and raised him 12lb on the back of that effort. That is likely to make life more difficult for him going forward and although Miss Isabel Williams takes 7lb off his back, I think the weight could be too much for him here.
Another arriving on the back of a victory is The Organist who seemed to relish the step up to 3m when winning at Newbury at the beginning of December. Oliver Sherwood’s mare was given a patient ride by Barry Geraghty but finished the race off strongly and for now this looks to be her trip. That was a pretty good race on paper and with just 6lb more on her back this afternoon, she shouldn’t be too far away.
Also towards the head of the weights is No Hassle Hoff who had some excellent form as a novice last term and has built on that at the beginning of this season. He made a winning reappearance at Uttoxeter in October and arguably built on that when fourth behind Sam Spinner at Haydock the following month. There is a bit of me that thinks the handicapper might just have him on a mark of 141 but if he can improve on his latest showing, he would come right into the mix.
Last year’s winner Tobefair returns in search of further glory but will need to improve on the form he has shown so far this season. He didn’t seem to take to fences at Ffos Las in October and switched back to hurdles next time, he ran well to a degree before tiring late on. It could be that Debra Hamer’s eight-year-old was lacking in fitness on the latter occasion and if that is the case, he is far from handicapped out of it on last year’s form.
Sykes is another interesting contender having defied odds of 33/1 to make the frame at Cheltenham last time. Nicky Martin’s nine-year-old may well have finished closer to the winner but for an error at the final flight and there is every chance he will run well again here. With the handicapper putting him up 4lb for that defeat, he is now 13lb above his last winning mark but he seems to have been freshened up by the change of yard and it will be interesting to see how he gets on here.
Another one to keep an eye out for is Templeross who had some form in top-class handicap hurdles which would give him a leading chance here. He was second in the Lanzarote on this day last year before finishing third at Ascot when well-backed into favouritism. He had two runs over fences in the early part of this season when he was beaten favourite on both occasions and was pulled up last time in the race won by Sam Spinner at Haydock. He has had a small break since then and whilst he needs to step up significantly on what he has shown so far, he looks dangerously well-handicapped.
However, BLACK IVORY saw off a progressive rival when winning in testing conditions at Aintree in December and there is every chance that he will be suited by the return to 3m here. It is also worth noting that the handicapper only raised him 6lb for his win last time, 3lb of which is offset by the claim of his jockey Jamie Hamilton here. Malcolm Jefferson’s six-year-old seems to be improving all the time and although he is viewed by connections as a chaser in the making, I think he can pick up a nice prize over hurdles before the season is over. He should be able to improve on his current mark of 126 and although this looks a more competitive race than last time, I think he has every chance of following up.
BLACK IVORY – 1pt win @ 6/1 (Boylesports)
2.40 Kempton – 32Red Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle (HANDICAP BREAKERS RACE) (AF)
One of the strongest trends when it comes to this race is that horses with high official ratings tend to struggle. To put an exact number on it, seven of the last ten winners were rated no higher than 140, although it could be argued that it is eight as Saphir Du Rheu, who won the race three years ago off a mark of 145 had Harry Derham taking 5lb off his back. Either way this is a strong pattern which would be a concern for the five to miss the cut in this year’s field: William Henry, River Frost, Bags Groove, El Terremoto and Top Ville Ben.
Perhaps the reason for those higher rated horses struggling in recent years is that they carry higher weights than their lower rated rivals. This is backed up by the fact that seven of the last ten winners carried no more than 11st to victory. The top ten as they appear on the racecard both fall at this hurdle with the exception of Diese des Bieffes and Spiritofthegames, whose jockey’s claim takes them below the 11st mark.
Recent renewals have also suggested that horses with low mileage have tended to be the ones to follow. Some of these horses have been on the go since October or November and too many runs during the season can often prevent them from running to the best of their ability. A significant statistic with regards to this race is that all but two of the last ten winners had no more than three runs during the season prior to coming here. This time around only Top Ville Ben falls foul of this stat.
In terms of age, there is no doubt that six-year-olds have been the group to follow in recent years, having accounted for six of the last ten winners of the race. They make up half of the field this time around, those in the favoured group being River Frost, El Terremoto, Top Ville Ben, Topofthegame, Spiritofthegames, Red Indian, Le Patriote and Man From Mars.
In races as competitive as this one, we often find that horses in form tend to carry that forward. A first two finish last time out is something that six of the last ten winners have had in common which bodes well for the sextet of Bags Groove, Top Ville Ben, Spiritofthegames, Diese Des Bieffes, Dentley De Mee and Man From Mars.
The final factor to take into account is the betting and although favourites only have a fair record (4/10), it is still best to focus on those towards the head of the market. In the last decade, only one winner has gone off at a double-figure SP so this is not a race in which to take a chance on a long shot. At the time of writing, River Frost and Diese Des Bieffes share favouritism with most firms at around the 6/1 mark with William Henry next best at 7/1.
DIESE DES BIEFFES – 5/6
Spiritofthegames – 5/6
Le Patriote – 5/6
The entire field miss at least one trend each but of the trio on the shortlist, the one who makes most appeal is DIESE DES BIEFFES. Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old may be a year younger than ideal but he has shown some smart form in three starts this term, winning twice before chasing home the smart If The Cap Fits over 2m at Kempton on Boxing Day. An initial mark of 135 seems fair enough on what he has done so far and with Mitchell Bastyan taking a useful 5lb off his back, he looks to have plenty going in his favour. On his latest start, he shaped as though he would be suited by a step up in trip and switched to handicap company for the first time, he looks to have a leading chance.
Just missing out on the top spot is Spiritofthegames who has shown enough in five starts over hurdles to suggest he can have a say in this. He recorded his third victory over hurdles on his seasonal reappearance at Lingfield in November and there is every chance that we haven’t seen the best of him yet.
The shortlist is completed by Le Patriote who makes his British debut here for Dr Richard Newland. The six-year-old was a dual winner in his native France, although his two runs this term for his previous connections have been a little underwhelming. His trainer is very good at rejuvenating horses from other yards and it will be interesting to see if he attracts any support in the market.
DIESE DES BIEFFES – 1pt e/w @ 6/1 (Boylesports) (4 places 1/4 odds)
2.50 Wetherby – totescoop6 Results On totepoolliveinfo.com Handicap Hurdle (EA)
Jaleo brings strong form at this level to the race for Ben Pauling having finished third in a class 3 at Kempton to end 2017. On his second run of the campaign he improved to be placed in the competitive event won by the Phil Middleton’s Golan Fortune, coming from off the pace in a race which favoured those ridden prominently. That was over two miles and five furlongs on soft ground so conditions at Wetherby should be ok for the six-year-old. He joined Ben Pauling from John Ferguson for the 16/17 season and won once from four runs, although he was thought highly-enough of run in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton and also the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Jaleo can build on his latest effort and be involved again on Saturday.
There are two horses in the line-up who have course and distance wins to their names. Diamond Fort represents Fergal O’Brien, but he will be looking to bounce back after a being pulled-up in a class 2 at Haydock. Before that the six-year-old had been successful on his first two starts in handicaps, with the first coming at Chepstow in April. His Wetherby win came on his seasonal reappearance in a class 3 where he got the better of Ben Pauling’s Raven’s Tower by three and three quarter lengths. He saw out the race well on the soft ground that day but now has a bit to prove after his last run.
Micky Hammond has two in the race, Dedigout and Becky The Thatcher, with the latter having won over course and distance in November. Having had two runs on the Flat, the five-year-old made it a successful handicap debut over hurdles and brought his record in this sphere to three wins from seven. Next time out, he was upped in grade and distance for a class 3 at Haydock where he finished a fourth of seven as he did not quite get home on the heavy ground. He is now back in trip which should suit, but may find one or two too strong in this grade.
A chance is taken on potential improver WESTEND STORY who showed high-class bumper form for Philip Hobbs in 15/16. This culminated in him finishing fifth in the Cheltenham Champion Bumper, only beaten three and a quarter lengths by Nigel Twiston-Davies Ballyandy. The seven-year-old has been sent off as favourite on all four of his hurdles starts but has to yet to win a race. However, he looks to be on a fair mark and could take his opportunity to get off the mark on Saturday. On his seasonal reappearance in November (his handicap debut), he finished fourth in a class 2 at Carlisle behind Donald McCain’s Desert Cry where he held every chance but did not see out his race. WESTEND STORY can build on that first run back and conditions should not be problem on Saturday having won a bumper on heavy ground. He also has the champion jockey Richard Johnson riding and his trainer has found his form recently.
WESTEND STORY – 1pt win @ 5/2 (Paddy Power)
3.00 Warwick – Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) (EA)
This looks like it could be an informative novices race for the future with five out of the six runners arriving here having won last time out.
Current favourite for the race is MR WHIPPED who is unbeaten in two starts for Nicky Henderson having cost £160,000 after winning his point-to-point in Ireland. He has been held in high regard by his trainer and made a successful stable debut at Kempton in November. He was sent off at long odds-on that day and won well despite looking green. He then showed improved form to end the year at Newbury as he ran out a good winner carrying a penalty, travelling strongly through the race before seeing off his rivals by three lengths. This looks to be solid form as the runner-up, Gowiththflow for Ben Pauling, has ran to a decent level and in third was odds-on favourite for the race – the Harry Fry-trained Melrose Boy who had previously won at Cheltenham. The slightly extra distance at Warwick should not be a problem for MR WHIPPED (he won his point-to-point victory over three miles on soft ground) and he can take the step-up in grade in his stride for his in-form trainer.
The form of the Evan Williams-trained Chooseyourweapon ties in with the favourite as he beat Gowiththeflow at Chepstow in November. Although the winning margin was only a head, he showed a good attitude on his Rules debut that da to get on top close home. He has a similar profile to Mr Whipped as he had also won an Irish point-to-point on his first career run and then cost £210,000. The gelding made it three wins of three in December when following up at Chepstow again on heavy ground. He was sent off at odds-on but it was a good effort to defy the penalty as he was successful by three lengths in the end. Although Chooseyourweapon can make a bold bid up in grade and distance on Saturday, he has a bit to find on ratings with Mr Whipped.
Six-year-old Count Meribel is the most-exposed horse in the line-up with twelve career runs so far, but he is also the highest rated for Nigel Twiston-Davies. In six runs in the 16/17 he ran consistently as he did not finish outside of the first three, filling the runner-up position four times. However, after having a break from April he returned for the 17/18 season in fine form as he racked up a hat-trick of wins in October/November. This culminated in an impressive victory in a class 2 at Ascot where he made all to win by eight lengths. He stepped up to Grade 2 level for the Bristol Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on his final start of 2017 and finished a creditable second to Colin Tizzard’s Kilbricken Storm. He was giving the winner 3lb but just got outstayed in the closing stages of the three mile race. The drop back in distance on Saturday should suit, but Count Meribel could be vulnerable to his lightly-raced rivals giving 3lb away again.
Of the rest of field, Paisley Park looks the most interesting prospect for Emma Lavelle. Having finished second in a bumper at Warwick at the start of 2017, he was not seen again until December when he made a successful debut over hurdles. He won in good style at Hereford, getting the better of Colin Tizzard’s 1/4 favourite Vision Des Flos by seven lengths. The market leader stumbled at the last, but Paisley Park looked like he would have won anyway. After only two runs the six-year-old is open to any amount of improvement, but could find it difficult pitched straight into Grade 2 company.
MR WHIPPED – 2pts win @ 15/8 (Paddy Power)
3.15 Kempton – 32Red.com Handicap Chase (DT)
A decent-looking contest despite only a select field of six lining up and a chance is taken on FOUNTAINS WINDFALL regaining the winning thread following a pair of falls last month. Anthony Honeyball has his string in fine form and the eight-year-old was bang there in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase on Boxing Day before tipping up 4 out. He had made a couple of novicey mistakes on his two previous spins over fences but was pretty much faultless until coming to grief at Kempton, and while that has to rate as a bit of a concern, he can only learn from his mistakes and still rates an upwardly mobile animal in this sphere. A mark of 146 is no gimme against some more battle-hardened rivals on his handicap debut but he was a most convincing eight length winner in a Grade 3 handicap over the smaller obstacles at Aintree’s Grand National Festival off 9lb lower so still looks feasibly treated, especially as he would likely have had a part to play in the finish in a Grade 1 last time out.
The remainder of the field all have significant questions to answer and while some of them may be up to it, they all have something to find with the selection.
On Tour was unlucky when unseating at Newbury in early December, travelling strongly at the time, but he flopped when upped to this trip in the Listed Silver Cup Handicap Chase over this trip at Ascot just prior to Christmas and is yet to prove his effectiveness over further than 2m4f under Rules (did win a 3m Irish point). The same can be said about Morning Reggie who did finish runner-up in a novice chase over this trip a few years back but that was a slowly-run small-field affair that gave him every chance to get home and he still tired out of it late on.
Ian Williams’ Ballyalton is another that is yet to prove his effectiveness at the trip but unlike the aforementioned duo, he still has the scope to make a mark. Returning from over a year off the track, he has shown that he still retains a chunk of his old ability and his staying on fourths in a pair of valuable Grade 3 handicaps at Cheltenham over around 2m5f leave the impression that the step back up to 3m should suit. Whether he is entirely the force of old still remains to be seen but the assessor has dropped him 1lb for his latest effort which gives him a chance.
If the ground continues to dry out, a chance would have to be afforded to Ballykan. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge has been largely consistent in the last couple of seasons and returned this winter with a fine third in a valuable Chepstow handicap, beaten less than six lengths by Rock The Kasbah. It’s fair to say that he hasn’t kicked on from there, producing a pair of disappointing efforts since, but the handicapper has relented by dropping him 3lb. Any soft in the going description would have to put a big knock on his chances though.
Therefore, the biggest danger to the selection could well be The Young Master. Still only a nine-year-old, he has been largely out of form since landing the Grade 3 bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown back in 2016 but has dropped down the handicap as a result to a mark of 142, his lowest since being disqualified following his victory in the Listed Badger Ales Trophy back in November 2014. His latest effort when sixth to Blaklion in the Becher Chase wasn’t all that bad considering the heavy ground doesn’t suit him at all and he should be more at home on this sounder surface. The main thing that concerns me with him is that he is normally shrewdly-campaigned by Neil Mulholland with a big pot as the target and this doesn’t look like that payday to me.
FOUNTAINS WINDFALL – 2pts win @ 6/5 (bet365)
3.35 Warwick – Betfred Classic Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (DT)
Prior to last year, the Classic Chase had already started emerging as one of the premier staying handicap chases in the calendar, but One For Arthur’s subsequent Grand National victory has propelled it to new levels and now makes the race one to closely keep an eye on.
Kerry Lee has made a name for herself in these kind of races in recent times, including when masterminding Alfie Spinner’s runner-up effort in the Welsh National at the grand old age of 13 last week, and saddles a fifth of the field here in her bid for a second victory in three years. 2016 winner Russe Blanc looks to be the outsider of her trio here and although he is now 2lb lower than that last winning mark, the soft ground may not prove to be soft enough for him on this occasion.
Krackatoa King looks to hold more pressing claims and the ten-year-old has looked as good as ever on his last couple of outings. However, this is a big step up in class and it took a strong Richard Johnson drive to get him up on his penultimate start, a feat that current incumbent Richard Patrick couldn’t quite repeat last time out, so preference is for stablemate GOODTOKNOW. The mount of Jamie Moore finished runner-up in this 12 months ago before duly going one better at Hereford next time out, defeating two-time Welsh National winner Mountainous by seven lengths. He probably disappointed a tad when pitched into the Grand National Trial and the big one itself to round off his campaign and more may have been expected on his return this time round. However, he unseated very early on on his reappearance at Wincanton and will certainly strip fitter for his effort in the Becher Chase, which was effectively his seasonal bow. The handicapper has relented, now leaving him on a mark just 2lb higher than when second last year and 1lb higher than his last win, so he is weighted to prove competitive again and a big run is expected.
It comes as a bit of a surprise that three runners that lined up in the Welsh National just a week ago take their chance here but the fact that all of their races ended prematurely means they didn’t have too tough a time of things. Milansbar got the furthest round, unseating at the 12th, and although first-time cheekpieces were employed (blinkers tried now), he looked to be well out of it when eventually unshipping Trevor Whelan. Bryony Frost has now been jocked up on the 11-year-old but while her valuable 5lb claim will come in handy, it may not be enough to see him able to compete.
Venetia Williams has had a penchant for landing big staying pots and Emperor’s Choice was a talking horse ahead of the rescheduled Welsh National, with his 4lb penalty just scraping him in at the bottom of the weights. He tipped up at the first though last Saturday which put paid to the plans of getting another run under his belt before being hit with the 7lb rise inflicted by the handicapper for his Haydock victory at the back end of last year and his chance may have passed.
On The Road got a little further than his re-opposing rival, blundering the 4th and unseating Mitchell Bastyan as a result. The eight-year-old was a progressive novice last year but was stepping up to a marathon distance for the first time last week, so this kind of stamina-sapping trip still rates as a bit of an unknown and the percentage call is to look elsewhere.
Nigel Twiston-Davies looks to hold a pretty strong hand with a pair of runners and Cogry looks to be the stable first string with Jamie Bargary in the plate. The pair teamed up to land the valuable Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day once again a fortnight ago and could well be set for another strong tilt at a big prize here. The nine-year-old has long threatened to score a decent pot and almost achieved it when a neck second in the Scottish National last year. A convincing win at Cheltenham on his opening gambit this campaign put him on a career-high mark but he has now been eased 1lb by the assessor after pulling up in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury and I don’t think 138 overestimates him if he turns up at the top of his game. He could prove to be the biggest danger to the selection if putting in a clear round.
His stablemate Ballycross had Alfie Spinner a couple of places ahead of him (and subsequent Veterans’ Final winner Buywise a couple behind) when fourth in the Welsh National Trial a month ago and has since been eased 1lb by the handicapper. His mark of 131 is 3lb lower than when pulled up in last year’s renewal but even with an extra 5lb taking off his back by talented amateur Zac Baker and first-time cheekpieces applied to keep him on the straight and narrow, he looks up against it in this field.
Another relying on the application of first-time headgear to bring about a bit of improvement is Ian Williams, who has declared Indian Castle with a visor. The veteran had been a hype horse in his early chasing days but never really reached his potential and has slipped to what seemingly looks to be his level now. That being said, he has returned this season from a break showing some of his old vigour and will benefit from having a professional back on board, especially as Robbie Dunne knows what it takes to win this having partnered Rigadin de Beauchene to victory back in 2013.
Sir Mangan will likely have his followers as a relatively lightly-raced chaser going in the right direction but the comments following his latest victory at Bangor back in November do worry me a bit. It seems as though that was the plan for the season and everything else is a bonus, which sets off alarm bells with him now taking on his biggest challenge to date. A 4lb rise for that win though is a fair assessment on the face of it and he had shown some fair form over the smaller obstacles prior to that (beaten less than a length by subsequent Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle winner Beer Goggles in a Newton Abbot handicap).
Anthony Honeyball has had his string in flying form in recent months and while a mare wouldn’t seem the obvious choice in a race of this nature, Cresswell Breeze showed what she was capable of when not beaten far into third in the London National at Sandown last month. She race here off the same mark, which I think is pretty lenient but although she showed form on testing ground earlier in her career, all of her best efforts recently have been on a sounder surface and this could prove to be a bit of a slog.
Of the remainder, Missed Approach deserves a mention but I really don’t think he’s one for maximum faith. A 6lb drop for finishing a well beaten sixth in the Ladbrokes Trophy is a fair assessment and while he was a good second in the National Hunt Chase at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, I still think that he needs a bit more help from the handicapper to really make his mark at this kind of level over fences.
GOODTOKNOW – 0.5pt e/w @ 14/1 (Ladbrokes) (4 places)
3.45 Kempton – 32Red.com Handicap Hurdle (MW)
Nicky Henderson, as is often the case in these Kempton events, is double handed with a couple of well-fancied sorts in the race. CHARMING ZEN is the highest-rated of them after just one race under rules here in Britain, back when he was with Dan Skelton last season. He won nicely under a penalty in a novices’ hurdle at Doncaster that day, defeating Apasionado, a horse trainer Stuart Edmunds thinks plenty of and is rated 134. CHARMING ZEN is clearly very useful on that evidence and has a shed load of potential to improve given that he’s only had two races in his whole life. Obviously a mark of 139 is no gift, no matter how good a horse is, but with James Bowen on board, a valuable 5lb comes off his back and he’s effectively on the same mark as the horse he beat by five lengths. Although he may want further in time, this kind of race, if run at a decent pace, should be fine for now and this talented, unexposed horse’s claims are impossible to ignore with the stable in such good form.
Talented but with questions, Henderson’s enigma, Jenkins, also runs in the race. A one-time supposed ‘good thing’ for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, his career has flopped dramatically to the extent that he’s been well-beaten on his two runs this season off marks of 137 and 135. To be perfectly honest, he’s seemed laboured in both starts and I’m not sure whether this trip is even close to what he needs – I would imagine he’ll again be outpaced and outclassed even though he’s down in the weights again, this time to 132. He just looks to me as if he needs a real trip to even begin to fulfil his potential, and this should be too sharp, even with first-time blinkers applied here in an attempt to spark him into form.
A smart flat horse in France, Maquisard hasn’t been with Gary Moore long, but he did show a little of his potential ability on his debut here over C&D where he pulled very hard most of the way round due to a sedate tempo early on, but was still upsides three out before weakening rapidly two out after feeling the effects of his earlier exertions. A stronger pace early on here could help him to get into a rhythm and show much better form and a mark of 127 could well prove to be a good one in time. He has an interesting piece of form in France over hurdles where he was a very close third in a Listed contest behind the smart Optimus Prime, who is now rated 140 over hurdles and 145 over fences, so if he’s anywhere as good as that piece of form suggests, his mark could be a good 10lb light. Still, horses sometimes take a while to bed in here after coming over from France and the safety valve in me wants to see him show some more before I consider him a backable prospect, but if you’re looking for a flyer on something at a big price, he might be worth some attention.
Viserion comes into the race off the back of a win at Sedgefield in a fairly low-grade handicap, the bare form of which is nothing to shout about. However, he did win very comfortably that day and could have a bit more to come – he’ll have to though as he’s been hit with a 7lb hike in the weights and this is a much better contest.
One who must revive to play a hand is the Tom Symonds-trained Don Bersy, who looked a smart horse in the making last season when defeating the likes of Coeur De Lion, Dino Velvet and Zalvados in juvenile hurdles. However, he’s started this year off in some poor form, tailed off in a couple of handicap hurdles off marks of 133 and 130 respectively, weakening quickly on both occasions. This could be a classic case of a juvenile jumping up to mixed-age class for the first time and finding things very difficult for a while, but there was enough substance in his efforts last season to suggest that he’ll find his way to competing at this level soon, especially off a mark in the 120’s, although I’d rather see him run a decent race at this level before suggesting an investment.
Lurking at the bottom of the weights is Dan Skelton’s One For Billy and thanks to Jonjo O’Neill’s 7lb claim, he’ll carry a featherweight – effectively running off a mark of 112. His last effort at Doncaster wasn’t hugely esxciting (fifth in a handicap hurdle off 120), even though the race is probably a stronger piece of form that it initially looks on first glance with the fourth, Crackdeloust, winning at Catterick this week off the same mark as he ran off there. However, O’Neill’s 7lb claim combined with the 1lb drop in the weights from the handicapper does give him claims judging by his defeat of the useful Oxwich Bay at Warwick on his penultimate run. He gave most of the field weight that day and seemed to revel in hold up tactics, staying on well at the end of the galloping two miles to overhaul his rivals. Oxwich Bay has run well in a competitive affair at Cheltenham and then won off a higher mark at Ffos Las since, so there’s substance to that win and given that he’ll receive 10lb minimum from all his rivals, he could be a threat to the favourite if he can pick up from the rear of the field.
CHARMING ZEN – 2pts win @ 6/4 (bet365)
NAP: FOUNTAINS WINDFALL (3.15 Kempton)
NB: DIESE DES BIEFFES (2.40 Kempton)
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