The Festival fever is starting to catch now as the preview nights swing into action. A few clues were shown last weekend but one thing to tidy up is that Dovecote Hurdle winner Winter Escape will skip Cheltenham and be aimed at Aintree.
We have a few Grand National clues with the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster and the Premier Chase at Kelso. On top of that there is a good card at Newbury with the Greatwood Hurdle and then Chase featuring.
The Greatwood Handicap Hurdle ran just over 2m is our first port of call. 11-runners are going to post, so the race does have a good each-way shape to it.
Warren Greatrex’s Boite is the one I’m focussing on. The son of Authorized has form figures that read 212 over hurdles in novice events. He is starting his campaign later than most due to running on the flat over summer when featuring in staying races at Goodwood and Ascot. His form last spring hints that he does have ability and he doesn’t look too badly treated. His last run over the smaller obstacles in April saw him follow Different Gravey home and we saw the Henderson horse bolt up at Ascot last month. The six-year-old could be open to more improvement and is worth taking at the prices.
Saint Charles hasn’t been seen for over a year when finishing second to Thistlecrack in a Novice Hurdle at Ascot – and now we all know how good the Tizzard winner is. He previously won a Maiden Hurdle over 2m3f; so running over this minimum trip is a concern, as is the absence. The hood has been fitted for the first time suggesting he could be a tricky customer. He could be well treated off his mark.
Phillip Hobbs’ Gala Ball is seeking a hat-trick but this looks more difficult than his two wins at Wincanton – he is able to run off the same mark when he won two-weeks ago. At the bottom of the weights is Wells De Lune, who carries a 7lb-pound penalty for his emphatic win at Fontwell six-days ago. The five-year-old showed ability in a race he was able to dictate, something he is unlikely to be able to do here. Charlie Longsdon is a trainer that has turned the corner in terms of form, so is worth watching regarding market support.
Advice: Boite (9/1 Each-Way)
This Novices’ event looks a good one on paper despite just the six-runners. Le Prezien was a close second in the Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock in late January and a run close to that should see him going close. On his hurdles debut he was a close second to Yanworth, who is favourite for the Neptune in a couple of weeks. He is related to some 2m4f horses, so should stay the extra trip.
Dan Skelton looks to have a nice type on his hands in Meet The Legend, who had solid bumper form. He was fifth to Altior on his hurdling debut on Boxing Day and he could make a splash in the Supreme. On heavy ground last time he beat the odds-on favourite Emerging Talent and in that race he settled better than his debut. There were a few question marks about him on the ground that day but he answered them with the success. He is open to improvement for the step-up in trip, so is worth siding with.
Charmix represents Harry Fry. He has some useful form already with a second to Modus before beating Big Chief Benny, who has franked that form since. There would be a concern about him if the ground turned heavy but he could try and go from the front.
Advice: Meet The Legend (7/2 Win)
The Greatwood Gold Cup Handicap Chase is a race that Paul Nicholls has dominated of late. The Ditcheat handler has saddled seven of the last ten winners, so it is no surprise to see his pair of Art Mauresque and Sametegal at the head of the betting.
The former won a Novice Chase at Cheltenham off this mark three starts ago before running a good race to finish sixth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup when only beaten by over 6l. A stiff track like Newbury is one that should suit him. Sametegal has been knocking on the door and should really have won last time at Musselburgh when headed late on by Five In A Row. They have reached for the tongue-tie with him but isn’t one to put too much fair in with the manner he went down last time, so is passed over.
French trainer Emmanuel Clayeux has declared two runners in the shape of Pythagore and Vicomte Du Seuil. Pythagore won a Grade 2 at Auteuil over 2m6f two-starts ago, so a strong pace should suit him and he followed that up by winning a three-runner Listed race at Pau. I don’t know much about his form but he looks up to this grade on paper. His stablemate Vicomte Du Seuil might find this too sharp considering his form over fences comes at just under 3m.
One that looks interesting is Laser Hawk for Evan Williams. This nine-year-old has only has six runs under rules and could have more to offer. This son of Rashar won his point-to-point here and seemed to love every minute of it in the ground. With conditions likely to be similar he could be worth a tentative play. He might prove to be out of his depth in this sort of grade but carrying little weight with the stable in-form he is worth chancing stepping up in trip.
A few more to mention briefly are Shutthefrontdoor, who was fifth in last year’s Grand National. He hasn’t been seen for 119-days and this is likely just to be a race for his fitness for the April Steeplechase. Benny’s Mist won the Grand Sefton at Aintree two-starts ago. He is one that probably wants further than this trip but could go from the front to try and make it a test of stamina.
Advice: Laser Hawk (14/1 Each-Way)
Only one favourite has won in the last eight renewals of the Grimthorpe Chase and that was Always Right in 2011.
The Last Samuri is at the top of the market and Kim Bailey’s eight-year-old has continued his fine form since his switch from Donald McCain. On his debut for the yard he bumped into Wakanda. Last time out he won the William Hill Handicap Chase at Kempton in December where he stayed on well to make it four win from seven starts over fences. The long-term aim for him is the Grand National but this could serve as further confidence for connections ahead of the big day.
The one for me is Alan King’s Sego Success, who returns to the scene of his last win. The son of Beneficial won over track and trip two starts ago in December. That win came from a front-running ride where he made all and he could dominate again here in the hands of Tom Cannon. He’s had 49-days off the track after a fall at the second fence in the re-arranged Welsh Grand National at Chepstow, which he is reported to be none the worse. Tactically this race is one he can dictate the fractions with conditions that should suit too.
Drop Out Joe won the Badger Ales Trophy at Wincanton in November following on from his victory at Chepstow. He is searching for the hat-trick here and comes here fresh something that shouldn’t perturb the punters. For me the concern is going to be about underfoot conditions. Connections had slight concerns about the soft ground at Wincanton and it is likely to be tacky ground on Town Moor today.
Neil Mulholland’s The Druids Nephew fell in the Grand National when going well, which left many questioning how close he would have gone if remaining upright. He hasn’t shown much on his two starts since then but he does have ability, which was shown last March when he won the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham festival. Just A Par is another that is being aimed at Aintree but today might not be his day, as Paul Nicholls hasn’t fitted him with the blinkers. The nine-year-old won two point-to-points on heavy ground and stays well if the gallop is a strong one.
Advice: Sego Success (4/1 Each-Way)
This race looks quite straightforward to preview. It looks the ideal prep run for Many Clouds as he bids to defend his Grand National crown in a few weeks time.
Oliver Sherwood’s charge has ran well on his last two starts despite being defeating by Smad Place and Don Poli respectively, who are both Gold Cup types. Barring any mishaps over the obstacles this should be a race he wins.
Unioniste remains on the same mark as he won off here last time. It looks between him and Perfect Candidate to complete the places.