Close but no cigar yesterday on a couple of occasions, with La Bague Au Roi rallying but not quickly enough, and Fakir D’Oudaries just outbattled by Pentland Hills in the Anniversary. Thankfully Supasundae made it a winning day, and we go just ahead – although there’s a long way to go yet! The big change in our calculations is the ground – the rain really hit yesterday and this should be testing going today.
With just two winning favourites in 30 years and 14 of the last 16 winners being sent off at double-figure odds, the Merseyrail Handicap Hurdle (1.45) has been a tricky one for the punters, although not impossible. Plenty have come from the Coral Cup, as you’d expect, and it’s no surprise that Brio Conti is fancied, he travelled best of all in the Coral Cup before others stayed stronger after the last as he was fourth.
He ought to take the beating along with Canardier, who was fifth in the Coral Cup, and there’s little not to like about the pair although both have been found by the market. Market support will tell us a lot about Project Bluebook’s chances, although he seemed short of pace when sixth in this last year. Mont Des Avaloirs has disappointed the last twice although this track and trip might suit.
Espirit Du Large looked a lot more comfortable when stepped up in trip at Hereford last time, winning a novice hurdle by ten lengths after finishing fourth in the Rossington Main. A mark of 132 looks generous on that basis and he’s of interested stepped back up in class. Mohaayed didn’t run a bad race when defending his County Hurdle crown and perhaps wants this step up in trip although 153 looks too high a mark for him.
Olly Murphy must have been over the moon with the runs of his horses in the Supreme Novices Hurdle as Itchy Feet and Thomas Darby took second and third. He has two wonderful prospects for next season in that pair, and also in Rouge Vif, a winner of the Kelso Novices’ Hurdle. He could end up taking another big prize with Itchy Feet, who will love the rain that has been hitting the track through the racing on the first day. He gets the vote in the Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle (2.50) ahead of Aramon, who would have been the choice on a better surface after travelling into the Supreme beautifully but who didn’t appreciate the slog afterwards.
The Supreme’s time compared well with the Champion Hurdle, and fourth Fakir D’oudaries was just nosed out in the Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle, so there’s a reason to be positive about the form and he gets the vote in what is a tightly matched race. Precious Cargo, an impressive winner of his two starts so far, is the big unexposed contender for Nicky Henderson, who has a fine record in this contest. Rouge Vif would make even more appeal if the ground was better, although he is a winner on soft ground.
Southfield Stone missed the Festival to come here whilst Winston C and Sofia’s Rock are progressing nicely.
Backing favourites to double up from Cheltenham is sometimes a route right through to the poorhouse here, but Topofthegame was having his first run since Christmas when winning what looked a quality RSA and that form is easily preferred to Lostintranslations’s JLT second. He can double up in the Mildmay (2.50) with Chris’s Dream the most feared with soft ground sure to be a boost to the Ten Up Novice Chase winner.
The Melling Chase (3.25) known as the JLT for sponsoring purposes, is a fascinating contest which sees Waiting Patiently get his chance at a Spring Festival. He was ahead of Politologue when the pair last met and it’s understandable he’s favourite, although Politologue was much improved when given a hood to go with his tongue tie at Cheltenham in the Champion Chase, when he pushed Altior to the line in second. He was 23 lengths behind Altior last year before winning last year’s renewal when getting the better of a tussle with Min and it’s possible that this race suits him more than anything at Cheltenham.
Hell’s Kitchen was fourth in the Champion Chase, a career best effort but a run that he’d always promised to give at a high level. A deeply impressive winner at Ascot over Christmas when smashing the Cheltenham Festival runner up Janika, he couldn’t quite keep up with the pace in the Champion but was still fourth and the Mildmay Course ought to suit him just perfectly here. He’s worth chancing to run a big race.
The Topham (4.05) has become a race for classy front runners over the last decade and if Janika takes to the fences then the Festival Plate second ought to take the beating. A mark of 162 is a high one for the six-year-old to carry but the way he travelled through the plate before just failing to give over a stone to Siruh Du Lac was that of a very good horse and the rain softened ground isn’t going to worry him either. The Festival Pate has produced eight winners of this race since 1995.
If the weight is too much for him, then Ballyhill could be best. He’s a front runner who is 9lbs higher than his last winning mark (was a clear cut winner here in December on the Mildmay course, on soft ground) but has improved since, notably when third behind Siruh Du Lac and Janika at Cheltenham on Trials Day. That performance has been underlined since and Ballyhill warmed up nicely with a good tune up at Ascot in the Denman Chase. Having a nice pull at the weights with Janika gives him a decent chance.
Ten of the last 15 Topham winners had run over the Grand National fences before, with three taking the Becher Chase route, and Call It Magic gave a bold sight out front before just fading late, and after a nice tune up, off a mark of just 136, he should find his extra stamina very useful here. He’s carrying just 10-0, another bonus.
The outstanding form horse in the Sefton (4.40) is undoubtedly Champ, who was a fine second in the Ballymore at Cheltenham, but whether he wants this step up in trip on such a surface is debatable. Dallas Des Pictons was a good second in the Martin Pipe and should relish stepping back up in trip after taking a valuable Leopardstown handicap hurdle, whilst Emiton, who bypassed the Festival to come here, is another big player along with Albert Bartlett fifth Lisnagar Oscar.
Add in wide margin Uttoxeter winner Ardlethen, Ascot winner Downtown Getaway, Wincanton winner Treveleyn’s Corn, Thurles winner Walk Away and Go Another One, who took the Michael Purell Novice Hurdle, and it’s clear that this race could go anywhere – and it might be one that’s best left.
There are plenty of very promising types in the Weatherbys Racing Bank Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (5.15) but none make enough appeal to put up as a bet.
RECOMMENDED BETS (scale of 1-100 points)
13:45 Merseyrail Handicap Hurdle
BACK Esprit Du Large 1 pt each/way at 17/2 with starsports.bet
14:20 Betway Top Novices’ Hurdle
BACK Itchy Feet 3 pts win at 10/3 with starsports.bet
14:50 Betway Mildmay Novices’ Chase
BACK Topofthegame 5 pts win at 4/5 with starsports.bet
PROFIT/LOSS SINCE JAN 1 2017: PROFIT 260.46 points
(excluding Premier League ante-post, BREXIT, Valero Texas Open)