This weekend sees some top quality flat action at Newbury while Ayr host the second day of their Grand National meeting with the big race getting underway at 3:45.
A quick reflection of last Saturday’s post, which saw Sizing Granite (11/2) win, Saint Are (40/1) was 2nd in the big race and in the Mares Bumper was won by Hollies Pearl (9/1) and the each-way selection Sea Pride (20/1) was 3rd.
The action is a little more tricky, especially the Newbury card as the flat turf action is only getting into the swing of things.
Seventh Sky (9/2) is the one to beat here for me. He was impressive when winning a Class 2 Handicap Chase so he is stepping up in class today for this race. He has gone up by 9lbs after his 8l success at Warwick where he travelled and jumped like the winner from a long way out. There were a few poor jumps early on but once into a rhythm he did the job nicely. This Charlie Mann eight-year-old did it from the front pretty much at Warwick and will want to be setting the pace or be prominent again here. However he may get involved in a battle with Top Gamble to front run, which would be a slight concern. He has form on good ground so the drying weather won’t be an issue. He has previously been 2nd to the progressive Traffic Fluide, who was 3rd in the Grade 1 Maghull Chase at Aintree last week, so some of the form looks strong.
Solar Impulse was a well-beaten sixth of six in that Maghull Chase and Paul Nicholls turns him out just seven days later. He goes off the same mark of 149 and by that earns respect. His form over 2m looks solid enough but has made some jumping errors, which are concerning. The step-up trip is the interesting angle here and after a difficult last few races isn’t something I’d have expected. Top Gamble is the current favourite however unless Richard Lee is out on track heavily watering then I think he’ll struggle. Needs some cut in the ground and the description of good would be a big concern. Oscar Rock has won over further and for me would need some cut in the ground. He did win a Class 2 race last time out quite convincingly at Kelso by 9l and has a 9lb penalty to overcome but he has looked progressive. It is the same story for Fine Rightly who has a 9lb penalty for a win at Naas. He won over course and distance in January but on heavy ground; another who needs some moisture to be there or thereabouts.
2:15 Newbury – Fred Darling Stakes
This race is a useful trial for the 1,000 Guineas. All of these runners are returning to the track for the first time, so it’ll be interesting to see how they have used the winter to build from 2-years-old.
Tiggy Wiggy is currently best price 20/1 for the 1,000 Guineas and if she was to hack up here that will be reduced significantly. However at her price at around evens today I think she can be taken on. Over a new trip and with new tactics she could be vulnerable; especially as Richard Hughes told Racing UK he is keen on settling her in mid-division rather than bowling along from the front like she did over 5f and 6f. Yes her form is far superior to today’s field but I’d be looking to take her on.
Jellicle Ball (4/1) won on her only start at Kempton in a Fillies Maiden where she was sat at the rear and pounced down the stand side to win. The draw in stall 5 is more preferable than Tiggy Wiggy in stall 11 and she’ll go close if replicating that run. My only concern is that some of John Gosden’s horses have looked like they have needed their first run of the season and has had three winners from 13 runners. However for a race of this quality you’d expect her to have been primed for it. Ryan Moore gets the ride, which is always a positive.
2:35 Ayr – Scottish Champion Hurdle
This looks an extremely competitive Grade 2, as it should be! You could make a few cases for some of these but I’m siding with Gassin Golf (14/1 each-way) who is stepping up in grade for this. Two starts ago he was 3rd to Ebony Express in the Grade 3 Imperial Cup at Sandown where it was a fairly close finish. The first time cheekpieces seemed to help and they remain on for Richard Lee and Tom Scudamore. Looking back at the race he travelled well and was the first one to catch the prominent pair of Ebony Express and Rayvin Black, who held for the first two places. Horses in behind him that day include Thistlecrack, who won the Sefton Hurdle last Friday, Calipto didn’t finish and neither did subsequent County Hurdle winner Wicklow Brave. There should just be enough juice in the ground as the times from yesterday’s racing suggested it was on the slow side of good. Last time out he won the Carter Jonas Handicap Hurdle at Newbury by 4½l to Lough Kent. He did that nicely and showed his talent by jumping better than he did in the Imperial Cup, which gives me room for optimism going back up in class despite a 6lb rise.
Of the rest the lightly raced Cheltenian is usually involved and was 2nd behind Violent Dancer, who made a mockery of the Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle by making all. Both could go well here with the former expected to be better suited by drying ground. Irving won a weak Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Arctic Fire was third, but nothing that looks strong plus he was 2nd last time out in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle where he was sent off favourite but was well-beaten by 6l to Blue Heron. Dan Skelton’s yard is in-form and he send Bertimont across the border, brother Harry rides and he told Racing UK he had schooled well and could run a big race. Sign Of A Victory looks a strong favourite and has won at Ascot on good ground in November beating Dawalan. He was second at this meeting last year to Vibrato Valtat in a Novices Hurdle. Disappointing last two runs and running off a mark 3lbs lower than when 4th to Faugheen two starts ago. I Shot The Sheriff still looks well handicapped despite having a 5lb penalty to overcome for winning a Handicap Hurdle by 3¼l over 2m6f, so if they go a fast gallop he could be the one to pick up the pieces at the end of the race.
2:50 Newbury – Greenham Stakes
Now this is a race, which looks to have some good depth on paper and is usually a good trial for the 2,000 Guineas. Some quality horses have come out of this race in the past including Mill Reef, Kingman and Frankel.
Ivawood was only beaten once last year and that came on soft ground so the return to firm quick ground here should suit. He has asserted himself on races with a quick turn of foot to see of his rivals over 6f and those wins have suggested this step up to 7f should suit. He is currently 13/8 for this race and 5/1 for the 2,000 Guineas, again a good performance here will see those ante-post odds cut to something similar to Gleneagles the current favourite. However in this field of quality and at that price he is another to take on.
Flaming Spear (8/1 each-way) has been off the racecourse the longest of this field and has only made one appearance. He is a highly thought at his yard and if he lives up to anything as good as he is said to be then he will be one to take forward. He won his only start to date at York over 6f and did it well considering he was described as a ‘backward sort.’ In that race he was ridden prominently and quickened nicely to pass the long time leader Lady Gemini. Over Winter he is said to have grown and strengthened, so makes the appeal.
Of the rest the Dewhurst winner Belardo has to reverse Newmarket form with Ivawood but that Dewhurst win at Newmarket, where he beat Estidhkaar, was mightily impressive in first time headgear and would be the one to fear most. However Roger Varian’s horses have looked to need a run and his four runners here yesterday were well beaten.
3:45 Ayr – Scottish Grand National
Arguably the feature race of the day! There was no fairytale for AP McCoy in his final Grand National when only finishing 5th on Shutthefrontdoor at Aintree last Saturday and there won’t be one here as his intended mount Benvolio was declared a non-runner yesterday. I have two selections at decent prices for each-way betting purposes. The majority of bookmakers are paying five places with the others only paying for the first four home.
Milborough (20/1 each-way) is the first selection after winning the 4m1f Eider Chase at Newcastle in February. He has proven stamina and travelled nicely throughout. When asked for an effort five from home he took the lead and jumped the best of a tiring field. His progress arguably came through tiring horses and horses who were making jumping errors however he stayed on really well to take victory with him and Summery Justice pulling clear of the horses finishing third and further behind. He has been given a 10lb rise for that Eider victory however Graham Watters claims 3lb of that back. Watters has taken victory on him on two of the three occasions he has been on board, so it is fair to say the pair get on well. He was 2nd to Ardkilly Witness on good ground over 3m1f at Market Rasen so the drying ground isn’t too much of a worry as it would be for a few of these.
Carli King (40/1 each-way) loved every minute of his 3m5f triumph at Warwick making all, which looked all but over barring any dramas from a mile from home. He had the field strung out and was heavily eased down at the finish and still recorded a winning distance of 11l. Travelled beautifully and jumped rhythmically giving his rivals no chance of catching him. This nine-year-old looked like he could have done another circuit of the track in that what looked to be a competitive staying handicap and therefore should relish this 4m test of stamina. He won the Lincolnshire National by 15l in December at Market Rasen, which saw a 12lb rise. His next start at Catterick he only managed 8th of 12 but then last month he was mightily impressive at Warwick. For that splendid win he has gone up another 12lb and is still off bottom weight here. If he gets out in front early on there may be few able to catch him if he replicates Warwick and for me quite simply looks overpriced.
Other to mentions are Gallant Oscar, Broadway Buffalo and Goonyela who were in the Grand National field but missed out as none of the top 40 runners were withdrawn. JP McManus purchased Gallant Oscar this week in an odd sort of move. He was third at Cheltenham behind The Druids Nephew and before that he was 4th in the Thyestes, which has worked out quite well. A strong favourite if there ever was one! Broadway Buffalo was 2nd behind Cause Of Causes in the 4m Amateur Riders race at Cheltenham, where the blinkers seemed to work, and this seven-year-old seems a progressive type and one to keep on side. He was arguably inconvenienced by the omission of two fences. For me this comes too soon afterwards and will come back even better next season. I was slightly disappointed Goonyella missed the Grand National last week. His form comes on soft and heavy ground, so I think this may be too difficult on quicker drying ground. He won the Midlands National at Uttoxeter last month by 9l. beating Raz De Maree His mark has gone up effectively by 7lbs with the claim of Jonathan Burke on board, which is proving a useful claimer. He was 3rd in the Thyestes before that. He stays all day and jumps well but I’d be worried about the ground on this occasion.
Last year’s winner Al Co was a first fence faller last week at Aintree in the Grand National. That shouldn’t have taken any edge of his fitness but possibly may leave a mental mark. In theory he is only 2lb higher for last year’s win so is off a workable mark. Winners don’t tend to carry top weights and that can rule out the pair of Sam Winner and Houblon Des Obeaux carrying high 11 stone weights. Harry The Viking is a bit of a ‘nearly horse’ finishing 2nd on the last three occasions and not having won since December 2011. Seven-year-old Sego Success shaped well on his first start over 4m and there could be some room for improvement for this Alan King gelding, especially if he has ironed out his jumping, which cost him his challenge at Cheltenham last time out. Wiesentraum should enjoy the quicker ground but you need to catch him on a going day and his price reflects that. Up in trip to 4m for the first time and is an interesting contender, look for market support before backing because he has to be in the mood to have any chance here.
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