Trainer Gordon Elliot gave the green light yesterday for Saturday’s brilliant Irish Champion Hurdle winner Apple’s Jade to take her chance in the Cheltenham equivalent next month. The mare was cut from 3s to 7/4 joint favourite at BetVictor for the Champion Hurdle following the Gigginstown U-turn – given connections initially reported they would still contest the Mares’ race at the Festival.
The mare will receive a 7lbs sex allowance from dual-champion Buveur D’Air – a facile winner at Sandown on Saturday – who has eased with BetVictor to 7/4 from 11/8 following yesterday’s revelation. Apple’s Jade was so impressive at Leopardstown it really was a no-brainer although she did show a slight tendency to jump out to her right at the weekend.
Taunton – who have a slight dusting of snow on the track – are inspecting at 7.30 this morning but are optimistic of racing with a thaw forecast on Sunday afternoon. The opening Novice Hurdle is a hot contest with Southfield Stone defending his unbeaten record (3 from 3) at the track stepping up in trip by three furlongs. The grey was not beaten far when third in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle last time and looks sure to go off a short-priced market leader.
Marginal preference, however, goes to Bold Plan (1.45) who receives 12lbs from the likely favourite – excluding Lorcan Williams’ allowance – and looks sure to appreciate stepping up in distance and would not be inconvenienced if the ground eases as the snow thaws.
In the second division Richard Johnson takes over on Third Wind, but he must give 13lbs – including the claim of talented conditional Connor Brace – to Paint The Dream (2.15) who belied his odds of 100/1 when a close fourth at Huntingdon on his first start over timber. He is entitled to improve with that experience under his belt and gets the vote for Fergal O’Brien.
The lightly-raced Demon Fou can find further improvement stepped up in trip from near the foot of the weight, but Rosemary Russet (3.15) failed to get home over an additional quarter of a mile at Hereford last time and Sean Bowen takes over on the mare for Harry Fry. The selection is only 3lbs higher than when beaten a neck over C&D back in November.
Cracking Destiny (3.45) did us a favour at Wincanton from a 9lbs lower mark last time and can follow up over a trip a couple of furlongs shorter. Ian Williams’ 6-y-o didn’t find as much as expected on his chase debut at Bangor but did the job well last time.
This is a big day for the Anthony Honeyball yard as Duhallow Gesture (3.45) really should be winning this on the best of her Bumper form – third in the listed Aintree Mares’ Bumper. The yard have not had many runners because of a virus of late and this mare has only had the two start so far this term.
The 3m Chase is a belter and my two against the field are Touch Kick and Le Boizelo (4.15) with marginal preference for the latter who is 2lbs higher than when finishing runner up at Exeter over slightly further last time.
At Wolverhampton I expect to see Arcanada (5.55) make all in the Conditions event for the second successive year for Tom Dascombe and Richard Kingscote. The pair teamed up with the impressive Kachy to win the listed sprint back-to-back at Lingfield on Saturday and this is likely to have been the target for Arcanada since scoring at Lingfield in a good handicap over New Year.
Aigiame (7.25) shaped with promise on her racecourse debut when third over 7f at Chelmsford and today’s slightly shorter trip should not be an inconvenience given she is closely related to a number of winning sprinters.
At Chelmsford the gelded son of Frankel Gantier (4.30) can go one better than when runner up at Lingfield when slowly away. John Gosden fits his Frankel gelding with blinkers for the first-time this afternoon and the hope is that the headgear can conjure a first win.