It’s an underrated day in the racing calendar, with three graded races from Warwick and a Pertemps qualifier which last year was contested by Sire Du Berlais who went on to win the final at the Cheltenham Festival for the second year running. While there may not be anything of that quality lurking in this year’s renewal it looks a competitive day’s action on ITV4, with winners to be had.
Sadly we are kicking off the terrestrial action – and this column – with the worst kind of contest possible, a three runner Grade 2 novices’ chase. The number of Grade 2 novice events over obstacles that seem to go off with just a bare minimum of runners is becoming a concerning issue for the sport and something the powers that be need to look at. That being said, one man who never fails to spot an opportunity to collect some prize money is Paul Nicholls and his NEXT SENSATION (8/11) is by far the most likely winner, although at odds on he wouldn’t be classed as must bet material. Moving to Ditcheat from Willie Mullins has seen a mixed bag of results for many horses this year, but this horse has thrived after two and a half years off the track, with a fine comeback run at Wetherby over timber, before making a winning debut over fences at Newbury last time. Normally you would fancy Fiddlerontheroof to give him a scare, but despite the fact he hasn’t run as badly as some of his stablemates I wouldn’t be touching any Colin TIzzard runner at the moment. He hasn’t had a single winner in three weeks and something seems amiss. Golan Fortune is no back number on ratings or form and could be the one to follow home the selection.
2.05 Market Rasen
Again this doesn’t look much of a contest on paper, but EDWARDSTONE (6/5) would be the pick on raw ability. Back over hurdles today, where he has recorded some smart form, he is taken to be the best of a pretty modest bunch, but Langer Dan will push him hardest.
For all the stick I gave Grade 2 contests earlier this is a belting novices’ hurdle and you could say 10 of the 12 are in with a chance of winning this, Make Me a Believer has very strong claims having run on strongly to win at Cheltenham in December, while Oscar Elite has won twice this season for Coin Tizzard despite the stable’s previously discussed problems this winter. However, a chance is taken each way on SENDING LOVE (14/1) for Paul Nicholls and Harry Cobden, who could well be up to showing up a few of these. He won in extremely eye-catching fashion at Ffos Las, stuffing Champagne Rhythm who is no mug and Ask Me Early who has subsequently gone on to win a pair of races. He was also far from disgraced at Sandown despite finishing last of three on bottomless ground. The winner that day was the impressive Star Gate of Evan Williams who has since been dispatched with ease by Nicholls’ Bravemansgame so he should know what it takes to run a big race here.
2.40 Market Rasen
Everything tells me that On The Blind Side should be the one to beat here and he’s turned out again superfast by Nicky Henderson’s standards after being smashed by McFabulous last weekend. Lil Rockerfeller is rightly one of the most loved horses in racing and ran a fab race on his seasonal debut. However, KEEPER HILL (9/1) has been keeping extremely hot company and is not a bad horse at all. Back over the smaller obstacles I would give him an each way chance here in a wide open race.
The Classic Chase is growing in my affections year by year and you simply have to love these stamina tests which welcome back some favourite faces year after year, Saying that there is no room for romance here and I fancy two to win us some reddies as we start to turn our minds to the business end of the season. First up LE BREUIL (6/1) is just one of those horses you would simply love to own. He runs some terrific races, none more so than when winning the National Hunt Chase in 2019 and with a couple of promising runs since then and wind surgery he will be impossible to keep out of the reckoning here. A course winner, he jumps and stays. At whopping odds and with four places, the well-handicapped RED INFANTRY (33/1) ranks as a solid each way play too. He’s been off a while now but thrives at marathon trips and comes from a super shrewd yard.
3.15 Market Rasen
An absolutely fascinating mares’ bumper that feels a bit of a naughty treat to be shown by ITV. Eileendover has made a smashing beginning to her career for Pam Sly and the Canford Cliffs filly – granddaughter to the stable’s 2006 1,000 Guineas winner Speciosa – will be very hard to beat. But it speaks volumes to me that Willie Mullins has sent over GRANGEE (15/8) in the current climate and she is taken to come out on top in what should be a belter.
Being a Pertemps qualifier you will want to be looking for something doing all its best work coming over the last two hurdles if you want to be finding the winner of the final at Cheltenham in March, but something has to win this and it could well be worth taking a solid each way stab at TOBEFAIR (10/1) who ran a fine sixth in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and just looks to be coming back to form now. If you do fancy a stab at a possible horse with one eye on Cheltenham that could be Geordie Des Champs who has been off since November 2018.
Prince Khalid Abdullah
Before I go I simply have to mention the passing of one of racing’s greatest ever names in Prince Khalid Abdullah. I originally wanted to write reams about what his horses have meant over the years, but it doesn’t need repeating. Frankel, Kingman, Enable, Oasis Dream, Twice Over, Noble Mission. All of them played a major part in my love of this sport and he will be sadly missed.