The frost covers have been deployed at Newbury ahead of Saturday’s jumps card although the racecourse executive are more than hopeful that racing will go ahead.
Twenty-seven stood their ground at the five-day stage for the Betfair Hurdle with the weights now headed by the progressive Jenkins (10/1 with BetVictor) one of five Nicky Henderson-trained runners likely to face the starter. Kayley Woolacott has yet to saddle a winner since she took over the licence following the tragic death of husband Richard, but she is due to saddle BetVictor’ 8/1 favourite Lalor who is set to carry 11st 1lbs.
Carlisle were due to inspect at 3pm on Tuesday for Wednesday’s card with noises coming out of the track less than optimistic that racing will beat the current cold snap. Fakenham inspect at 7am on raceday but if racing goes ahead Talk Of The South (2.30) is a confident selection to go one better than when runner up at Warwick over a slightly longer trip last month. The 9-y-old jumped well at the Midlands track and the handicapper has left him on the same handicap mark – Tom O’Brien again takes the ride.
It might be sensible, however, to concentrate our preview on Ludlow given, at the time of writing, there is no inspection planned.
Solomon Grey (1.40) had his limitations exposed at Kempton over Christmas but his previous 11 length success at Plumpton over Betfair Hurdle hopeful Knocknanuss (giving 6lbs) is good novice hurdle form and he can give 6lbs to Henderson’s Doux Pretender who was well backed at Newbury on his hurdles debut and is entitled to come on for the run.
The Novice Chase is a cracker with three well above average novices in opposition. At the time of writing, Harry Fry has not booked a jockey for Drumcliff although the suggestion is the excellent Aine O’Connor, who was in the saddle at Ascot last time, will be in the plate again claiming a valuable 7lbs.
Tree Of Liberty was no match for the smart Saint Calvados at Newbury last time, but is a big danger if getting a soft lead. The vote, however, goes to Copain De Classe (2.10) who travelled like the best horse in the race when beaten by Benatar at Ascot on his reappearance (2m 3f) and he can take the return to the minimum trip in his stride.
The feature is the valuable Handicap Chase over an extended two-and-a-half-miles and Azzuri is a fascinating runner stepped up in trip for the Skelton’s although he would make more appeal on better ground. The handicapper is giving him a chance and he is one to note on spring ground.
My two against the field, however, are Creep Desbois and Midnight Target (3.15) with preference for the bottom-weight who ran a very good race at the weights when second to Kerry Lee’s Happy Diva over C&D last time.
Esprit De Somoza (3.45) cannot be opposed in the juvenile hurdle having burst a few bubbles when landing the Chatteris Fen Juvenile Hurdle at Huntingdon last time. The selection is currently 25/1 at BetVictor for the Triumph Hurdle and I expect him to pass his final prep for Cheltenham despite giving at least 6lbs to his eight rivals.
Module (4.15) is hardly the force of old and has never won at today’s 2m 4f trip, but he is still only just turned eleven and has run well fresh in the past. Third in the BetVictor sponsored Champion Chase back in 2014 it is interesting that connections have persevered with him and I wonder if he passes today’s test whether we might see him line up at Aintree for their Foxhunters’ in the spring.
Gowiththeflow (4.45) is a winning pointer who has finished runner up to a couple of decent sorts over timber for Ben Pauling. The yard had a treble at Southwell on Monday and they can add to their impressive recent form with this five-year-old who could be very good when transferring his attentions to fences.