The weights were announced for next month’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and at this early stage, my two against the field are the novices Lostintranslation (12/1 at BetVictor) and the lightly-raced maiden Lalor (12/1 at BetVictor) with marginal preference for the former who holds an entry in a Supreme Novice Hurdle Trial at Haydock Park this weekend.
The ground is described as heavy at Wincanton for today’s Somerset National over an extended three-and-a-quarter miles and it promises to be a real war of attrition. Cyclop (2.10) did us a favour when landing the Lincolnshire National at Market Rasen on Boxing Day and I am pleased that the handicapper has only seen fit to raise the selection by 3lbs. The selection may have hit the front too soon on that occasion and I felt he might have been idling when scraping home by a short head.
Themanfrom Minella looks the big danger having scored at Warwick last time from an 8lbs lower mark. Max Kendrick is good value for his 7lbs claim but Cyclop is an out-and-out stayer who can make it two Nationals in just over three weeks.
Legend Lady (3.20) failed to get home on her reappearance and I am pleased to see connections drop the mare back to the minimum trip. The yard of Oliver Sherwood may not have been at their very best when the mare made her comeback and I do remember backing the horse at Hereford last season on her sole start when she was readily brushed aside by Alan King’s Midnight Tour. As well as being out of pocket, I was disappointed with her performance but hindsight is the best sight.
The winner is now rated 146 and was winning that race from a 24lb lower mark. The selection is 4lbs lower than on that occasion and the hope is that she doesn’t bump into a rival as Midnight Tour was last season.
The Sherwood yard had a winner at Fontwell last week and Legend Lady may have most to fear from the recent Exeter winner Show On The Road representing the inform yard of Philip Hobbs.
I hope it is a good day for Sherwood who saddles Jurby (3.55) in the concluding Novice Hurdle. The selection would be a confident selection on decent ground but we do have to take his ability to handle today’s ground on trust. That said I thought he shaped very well at Stratford on his hurdles debut and first start for the yard back in October and he is entitled to come on for the experience.
Happy Diva (1.30) has jumped well on both starts over the larger obstacles and she lost nothing in defeat when second to the talented Ms Pafois who completed her treble when beating the boys in a Warwick listed event last weekend.
The selection would be receiving 4lbs from David Pipe’s Shaama Grise if this were a handicap but I am convinced two-and-a-half miles on soft ground is ideal for Kerry Lee’s charge.
If the Rebecca Curtis yard were in better ground I would be confident of the prospects of Mystical Knight (2.00) and I will be very interested to see what the market makes of his chance given he runs in the colours of JP McManus. The mare Actinpieces is a big danger despite top-weight but I would be sweet on the JP runner if the market spoke in his favour.
Mendip Express is a nailing good Hunter Chaser and he will give Virak (3.10) a good race this afternoon but the latter is three years younger, receives 8lbs from the Philip Hobbs-trained runner and would be giving Mendip Express 9lbs if this were a handicapper.
It is often said that Paul Nicholls does not have his team in top form at this time of the year but he has to get a Hunter Chase win next to Virak’s name if he is to consider a Festival bid.
Week two of the Meydan Carnival and a draw in stall eight is a worry for Mountain Hunter (3.40) but the Godolphin runner can take the mile handicap on the dirt. The selection is out of a UAE Oaks winner and promises to be at least as effective on today’s surface.
On the turf track, Blair House (4.15) can go one better than when runner up in the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot back in June stepping back up to 10 furlongs for Charlie Appleby. The selection has a decent record fresh and he might be up to defying a mark of 100.