Our first port of call for today’s televised coverage is a trip to Newbury for an open looking handicap hurdle run over two miles and five furlongs.
This is such an open race that a chance can be given to quite a few but one that might be worth taking a chance on is the Philip Hobbs trained Irish Buccaneer. The lightly raced 8yo has failed to build on some of the early form he showed in bumpers and novice hurdles, but should welcome the return to the smaller obstacles after two runs over fences. The gelding runs here off a mark of 129 but looks capable of a mark in the low 140’s on the best of his form and that should be enough to see him competitive in this contest.
Another runner who looks potentially well treated is the Paul Nicholls inmate, Provo. The 8yo has spent the best part of two years off the track with an injury and his comeback run did not provide many clues to his well being. He is however well handicapped on old form and if retaining all ability he would stand a very good chance.
Of the remainder, the unexposed Leave It Be from the Neil Mulholland yard is interesting while Topolski is well treated on old form, but may need the run on comeback after a year off the track. The complete outsider of the party Loyaute also has some strong form that could see him the best handicapped runner in the field. Some of his recent form has been poor though which is off putting, but I don’t think he should be as big as he is in the betting.
IRISH BUCCANEER (E/W)
We head to Doncaster for our second race of the day, a handicap chase over two miles and half a furlong.
The one that catches the eye most in this contest is Jonjo O Neills charge, Festive Affair. The 7yo is entered in two handicaps at Cheltenham and the only one where he stands some chance of making the cut is the Grand Annual. He will need to incur a winners penalty to take up that engagement though. While he is a hard horse to get a proper read on, Jonjo is probably the best trainer in the business at disguising a horses true ability. I think he is the only horse in the field who could have plenty of improvement to come as the rest look either exposed or have little to hide from the handicapper.
The one that could give the selection most to think about is the elder statesman in the lineup, Kings Grey. The 11yo looks back on a competitive mark once more as his last two wins have come off of slightly higher marks. The worry is that he may be found out by younger legs but he should have some part to play in proceedings.
Of the rest Ifbutandwhynot has an interesting jockey booking in Davy Russell but not too sure he has a great deal to spare. the horse that he beat last time out did not do a whole lot to advertise the form during the week either. Dresden is another who could do with a winners penalty to make the cut for the Grand Annual but not sure if he has the same potential as the selection.
FESTIVE AFFAIR (WIN)
Next up we have a veterans chase at Newbury run over a marathon trip of three miles and two furlongs.
The majority of the runners in this lineup are fairly exposed now but a few are well treated on old form and staying chasers usually only reach their full ability at nine or ten years of age. The one that I am going to take a chance on here is the Colin Tizzard trained Golden Chieftain who is without a win since he scooped a handicap at Cheltenham two years ago. The 10yo holds two entries at this years festival but has little chance of making the cut off his current mark. While a winners penalty would not guarantee a run, it would at least give him a chance. He does need to rediscover his form though but could possibly bounce back here and looks worth taking an each way punt on.
Another in this who looks on a lenient enough mark is the Paul Nicholls trained There’s No Panic. The 10yo looks at least eight pounds ahead of the handicapper on paper, but the assistance of Jack Sherwood claiming a valuable five pounds off his back really gives him a chance.
Soll was impressive winning last time out when gaining his first win for his new yard, while Relax who renews rivalry with Soll is weighted to finish much closer and looks fairly treated too.
GOLDEN CHIEFTAIN (E/W)
Next we head back to Doncaster for some Listed hurdle action for the mares over three miles and half a furlong.
This is a really tough race to call as only a few pounds separates the market principles on the form that they have shown to date. This will also be a new trip for one or two and this could bring about lots of improvement too. The one that I like in this contest is the Irish raider Golan Road. The form of her penultimate start reads very well now that the winner has followed up in a Listed contest at Sandown in impressive fashion. While Golan Road tries a new trip here, she does have winning form over three miles in point to point company. I also rather back mares coming in to races on the back of a good run rather than a poor one as they do tend to follow up.
Doll in Milan possibly brings the second best piece of form to the table and while it is hard to get a proper read on here, I do have her possibly running up to the highest mark on paper. The worry with her is that she arrives here on the back of a poor run but if she is capable of bouncing back, she should have a part to play in this contest.
At the head of the market is Princess Tara who arrives here seeking a hat trick of wins and while she may do so, I think this is by far her toughest assignment yet. While she may win, I would be quicker to lay her than back her here.
It is difficult to confidently rule out Balmusette or Maypole Lass but I think both have a bit to find on form with those ahead of them in the market.
GOLAN ROAD (WIN)
We head back to Newbury for some handicap hurdle action next and it is a tight enough handicap despite the small enough field.
At the head of the market is Albert Bridge who will try to build on a fairly facile success at Chepstow last time out. The 7yo was only given a seven pound rise for that win and while he may follow up again here, I would be prepared to take an each way chance on one of the others.
The one that I like in this contest is the Richard Rowe trained Like Sully who enters handicap company for the first time on what looks a lenient enough mark. The 7yo had not shown a great deal on his previous starts, but won nicely enough last time out and had a smart enough four year old in behind, who had decent enough juvenile form. He looks like he could be value for at least a stone on his current mark and that should be enough for him to at least have a say in proceedings.
Baby King is another who has sound enough each way claims but will need to show a bit more than he has on his last two starts. Arthurs Secret is an interesting runner as this will be his first hurdles start since arriving in the UK but he has smart enough form in France that should see him involved.
LIKE SULLY (E/W)
We now head back to Doncaster for a tricky seven runner handicap hurdle over three miles and half a furlong.
At the head of the market is the David Pipe trained Batavir who holds entries in a few handicaps at the Cheltenham festival but would need a penalty to ensure a run. He does look an improving sort but offers little in the way of value and another runner in the field also needs to incur a winners penalty to get a run at the festival.
While I think Batavir is the most likely winner, it’s the Jonjo O Neill trained Kelvingrove that looks worth taking a chance on. The 5yo is another with multiple festival entries but could do with a rise in the weights to get a run and can only achieve that now with a win. The cheek pieces also make an appearance for the first time and this could be exactly what he needs to help him concentrate better.
Of the remainder Seldom Inn looks ahead of the handicapper and Call the Cops looks open to more improvement too.
The penultimate race of channel fours televised coverage is a Grade 3 handicap chase at Newbury, run over two miles and four furlongs.
This is possibly the trickiest race of the day as there are a few unexposed improving types in the field and also a few battle hardened sorts too. There are also a good few runners here who could possibly do with a winners penalty to ensure a run in handicaps at Cheltenham too.
At the head of the market is the Paul Nicholls trained Sound Investment who needs to concede weight all round here. While the seven year old is open to more improvement, I think he has only about seven pounds in hand of the handicapper on paper. With a race as tight as this, I would rather look for a bit of each way value so one of the others would appeal to me more as far as having a punt goes.
Ballygarvey is a horse who could probably do with a winners penalty to ensure a run at the festival and on pedigree should appreciate the step up in trip here. On paper the nine year old looks one of the better handicapped runners and boasts a strong record over fences winning four of his nine chase starts. With that in mind he looks a horse who has an each way chance in what looks an open contest.
Two of the others here that could possibly do with winners penalties to make the cut for a Cheltenham handicap are Easter Meteor and Bennys Mist, so both should have some part to play in proceedings.
The final televised race of the day is Doncaster feature event, the Grimthorpe chase run over three miles and two furlongs and it looks an open affair.
Last years winner Night in Milan heads the betting here but is 10lbs higher in the weights this time round. While it would not be beyond him to follow up again this year, this race has been won the last five years by horses carrying 10-12 or less. With that concern in mind, I would be prepared to take a chance on one of the others farther down the weights here.
Another one that is prominent in the betting is the Charlie Longsdon trained Drop Out Joe and Davy Russell is an eye catching booking. Inexperience may play against him here though as this will only be his fourth chase start and it is never easy for novices taking on battle hardened sorts in these types of staying chases. With that in mind, he is another I would be prepared to over look here.
The one that I am going to take an each way chance with here is William Money who comes here on the back of a good Kelso win, where he came from way off the pace to snatch victory. He got a rise of only four pounds for that win, but could be value for a stone more on the best of his form. He also has the assistance of Diarmuid O Reagan claiming a valuable five pounds and should appreciate this step up in trip, the way he finished his race off last time out. With a clear round he should have some part to play here.
WILLIAM MONEY (E/W)