Time for Another Top Billing

What a weekend it was last week. Trials Day at Cheltenham proved a huge success and gave useful pointers towards the Festival next month. On top of that card Doncaster gave some valuable lessons.

The blog has wins with Vaniteux, Barters Hill and Thistlecrack, while Champers On Ice, Cheltenian and Many Clouds all ran into places at good prices for the each-way punters.

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This week isn’t as good but there are some good races despite the small field sizes. Here is a look at the races being shown on Channel 4.

13:50 Sandown

The Channel 4 coverage starts with a two-mile Handicap Chase at Sandown where only a field of six go to post.

The recent form between Bold Henry and Arthur’s Oak looks the place to start. The former won by over two-lengths when they met at the beginning of last month. However with a five-pound weight pull back in his favour Arthur’s Oak could be the way to go here.

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Venetia Williams’ eight-year-old is likely to try and make the running but when they last met a mistake two out possibly cost him the race against Bold Henry. If jumping fluently he could take some catching.

The enigmatic Mr Mole is starting to slip down the handicap and he should welcome this drop in class. However with his temperament it is hard to put him forward given his antics.

Advice: Arthur’s Oak (11/4 Win)

14:05 Ffos Las

The Welsh Champion Hurdle has a healthy field size on a day where they aren’t the best. Last year’s winner Silsol carries top weight for Paul Nicholls and has conditional Jack Sherwood claiming five-pounds.

This pair teamed up to claim victory last year form Kayf Moss, who re-opposes. Silsol has being plying his trade over fences of late and with the claim comes here one pound better off than last year. John Flint’s Kayf Moss doesn’t find winning all too easy but tends to run with credit.

Nicky Richards has two in this race and Top Billing is the most interesting of the pair. He nearly completed the five-timer at Doncaster in December and only narrowly failed. He has gone up in the weights and this is a step-up in grade however he is a front-runner and he has been winning over further than today’s trip, so he can try to stretch his rivals from the outset.

One other to mention is Oliver Sherwood’s Deputy Dan, who in his last two starts has bumped into World Hurdle ante-post favourite Thistlecrack. He matched the Tizzard charge for a good way in the Long Distance Hurdle and this step down in grade could be one, which sees him return to winning ways.

Advice: Top Billing (12/1 Each-Way)

14:25 Sandown

The Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase has Grade 1 status and Tea For Two can add this to his Grade 1 success at Christmas.

He is two from two since going over the larger obstacles and the drop in trip shouldn’t be an issue. It is fair to say he has been impressive so far and despite only finishing seventh in the Fixed Brush Hurdle in November that form is very strong on paper with plenty of winners, so it is worth sticking with this son of Kayf Tara.

It does look a match on paper with Bristol De Mai. He’s a solid jumper and in his own way has impressed over fences. We didn’t really learn as much as we may have thought when he won at Haydock. He may be more suited to a smaller field but he may get into a battle today and we haven’t seen him one yet.

One worthy of a mention is Maximiser, who is a really good-looking type. This big strong grey is likely to make the running and Simon West has booked Richard Johnson to take the ride, possibly to steal it from the front. He may not be up to this level but he certainly is one to win races with.

Advice: Tea For Two (13/8 Win)

14:45 Wetherby

This renewal of the Towton Novices’ Chase looks a good competitive heat with plenty have chances of this six-runner field.

Blaklion steps back up to three-miles after finishing second in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham last time to Seeyouatmidnight. He isn’t the quickest but travelled well enough for the majority of the way at Cheltenham. This seven-year-old isn’t the biggest and still looked unfurnished when jumping the fences the last time.

Colin Tizzard is enjoying a good season and Native River can keep that going here. He won a Grade 2 Novices’ event at Newbury in November before stepping up into a Grade 1 finishing third to Tea For Two and Southfield Royale. He looks to be full of stamina and is solid in the jumping department. He holds the form over Definitly Red from their hurdling days.

As mentioned above the Fixed Brush Hurdle is very strong form and Definitly Red was second in that race. This is only his third run over the larger obstacles but he looked useful despite one error at Catterick on New Year’s Day and was only beaten by Black Hercules last time. He could have more to offer here.

I must give a quick word to the mare Bitofapuzzle who won a Grade 2 Mares’ Hurdle at Ascot. She’ll be suited by the step back up in trip but may find it difficult against the opposite sex after competing in mostly Mares’ races. Last time out she unshipped Noel Fehily over at Thurles.

Advice: Native River (7/2 Win)

15:00 Sandown

This Handicap Hurdle has Grade 3 status and it looks fairly open with eleven-runners to face the starter.

Yala Enki won the Lanzarote Hurdle four-weeks ago and returns to the track facing a tough task. He is one that franked the form from the Fixed Brush Hurdle. In this contest he isn’t going to get his own way in front plus the weight rise without the a conditional jockey claiming slightly puts me off him.

Phil Nicholls’ Ibis Du Rheu has been expensive to follow. He was third in the Lanzarote Hurdle and the step-up in trip seemed to help him after going down by a narrow margin the time before at Newbury. Once again he steps-up in trip but this may stretch him based on what his pedigree suggests.

Baywing is looking for a five-timer and has kept progressing with each start. He could do so once again but has gone up in weights and grade. At Haydock last time despite making an error he travelled powerfully through the race and won with a shade in hand. All his wins have come with cut in the ground, so he’ll want overnight rain. Invicta Lake ran just eight-days ago at Huntingdon in a stamina sapping race where he made the running. He is out of the handicap for this race but is off a mark he could threaten. Suzy Smith’s nine-year-old is likely to go forward from the start and would welcome drying ground.

Saddlers Encore has to be considered for the formidable pairing of Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson. His run 42-days ago came on the back of a long layoff, so he’ll strip fitter for that and he wasn’t beaten by that far. He looked fairly progressive before the layoff in 2014 and he could feasibly still well treated from just his six starts. Looking at the race from a pace perspective they could go off too hard in front meaning a closer comes to win the race.

Advice: Baywing (9/2 Each-Way)

              Saddlers Encore (7/1 Each-Way)

15:15 Ffos Las

Bob Ford won the West Wales National last year where he was only one of two finishers. This year there is seven-runners, four of who are trained by Rebecca Curtis.

Trying to repeat his win is something highly plausible for Bob Ford. He’ll try and make the running similarly to last year. He boasts good form here winning four of his six starts at the Welsh track. Conditions won’t be a problem, so he ticks a lot of boxes.

The stablemate that looks overpriced is Red Devil Lads. I’m not giving up on this son of Beneficial just yet after disappointing when unseating in the Welsh National then pulling up in the Betfred Chase a week later. He has never been out of the first two here from five starts – winning three and finishing second twice. He had been looking like a fairly progressive staying chaser and with the return to this track a positive he gets the vote.

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It is nearly a year ago since Cogry last won but he has only had five runs since then and has remained on a similar mark. He ran well in a Grade 3 at Cheltenham two starts ago and if replicating that run he is one to take seriously.

Advice: Red Devil Lads (13/2 Each-Way)

15:30 Sandown

This Handicap Chase over three-miles has an interesting shape but looks a fiendish puzzle to solve. Last year’s winner Le Reve returns to the track he has won his last two races at.

Lucy Wadham’s charge plodded home to finish sixth in desperate conditions for the SkyBet Chase last week. He is better suited to this sort of track, which could spark him back to his best. He is four-pounds higher than his last win and the blinkers replace the cheekpieces. Harry Skelton is also an interesting jockey booking and rides him for the first time.

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Venetia Williams has a duo set to run. Saroque still looks to be in the grip of the handicapper but has run with credit in better races than this. Veteran Summery Justice is also a bit high in the handicap despite Charlie Deutsch’s useful five-pound claim. The latter however has to be considered on the back of his latest run 63-days at this course. The step back in trip is a positive but he may be hoping for some overnight rain.

Unioniste is quite interesting. His last win came at this course but there has to be a concern about Paul Nicholls chasers, who haven’t gone as well of late as they tend to do. This grey son of Dom Alco is back to a workable mark but hasn’t shown his best form of late. This does represent his best chance to get his head back in front compared to those races.

Knock House is on the shortlist and the drying ground is a positive. He’s had time to recovery from his latest run at Cheltenham in December. This seven-year-old is quite lightly raced, so has the potential to win off this career high mark and has to be considered at an each-way price.

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Advice: Le Reve (9/2 Each-Way)

               Knock House (7/1 Each-Way)


Good Luck!


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