As well as the Dublin Racing Festival this weekend there is a very good card at Wetherby on Saturday where the feature race is the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase over three miles. Oliver Sherwood’s Dominateur won a handicap at Chepstow last time and is 5/2 market leader at BetVictor although I’m not convinced he will confirm the form with the second Clondaw Anchor – 6/1 at BetVictor – who would have given the winner plenty to think about had he not clouted a number of the fences in the home straight.
Hereford’s card has been lost through waterlogging this afternoon and we begin our preview at Leicester who are, at the time of writing, optimistic that their six-race card will go ahead. In the opener Imperial Alcazar (1.45) should return to winning ways having been awarded a race in the Cheltenham Stewards’ Room when last seen on New Year’s Day only to lose the race on appeal later in the month!
Pistol Whipped won over today’s C&D last month and must go close from a 6lbs higher mark. Nicky Henderson’s 6-y-old is currently rated 134 but will have to win again to get into the Close Brothers’ Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March. The form of last month’s success has not been franked, however, and he would not want the ground to get bottomless. He remains open to further improvement and if he copes with underfoot conditions then I believe he will be hard to beat.
That is a big if, however, and I thought Looks Like Murt (2.15) was going just as well as the eventual winner Domaine De L’Isle at Newcastle last time and that form has been franked by the subsequent Ascot win from the latter from a 10lbs higher mark. The selection had previously scored at Kelso and Grand National winning jockey Derek Fox takes over in the saddle today.
There is a good handicap hurdle and Top Gamble ran an encouraging race when third at Haydock last time and has been dropped another 3lbs for that effort. Do watch a market move for Kerry Lee’s 12-year-old and Gregarious is another who I will be keeping a close eye on in the market. The vote, however, goes to the progressive mare Miah Grace (3.15) who has won two of her three starts over timber and looks sure to go close despite the steadier of 11st 12lbs.
I’m not convinced the Dr Richard Newland stable are in great form at present although Catamaran Du Seuil has dropped to an attractive mark in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase. Lithic was not out of it when coming down three out at Market Rasen last time, but I’m going to take a chance on the lightly raced Celtic Rising (3.45) who has his first start in 353 days and his first run in Britain for Tom George.
The selection was highly thought of in his younger days with Henry de Bromhead, has the scope for the larger obstacles and has had his wind operated on since he last saw the track. The trainer also fits the eight-year-old with a first-time tongue-tie this afternoon. The hope is that first time out will be the time to catch him and he has won over hurdles and in a point-to-point on soft ground.
In the 2m 4f handicap Hurdle Over Stated has bits of form between the flags which makes him look attractively weighted despite carrying top-weight today. He must go close but marginal preference is for Drewmain Legend (4.15) who looked ready for a step up in trip when a never nearer third at Newbury last time. The mare has won two of her last four starts and is only 4lbs higher than when scoring over the minimum trip here on her penultimate start.
In the 6f fillies’ handicap at Kempton this evening I thought Fen Breeze (6.15) ran a good race, without having much look in running, when third at Wolverhampton last time and I feel she can return to winning ways – she won at Chelmsford on debut – with the handicapper seeing fit to drop her a pound. The hope is that the consistent front-runner Hassaad can help set the race up for the selection who is taken to swoop fast and late.
Pride Of Angels belied her odds when a staying on third over 6f here at the weekend and today’s additional furlong should suit Gary Moore’s mare who has won from a higher mark in the past. The nod, however, goes to Split Down South (7.15) who ran well over C&D last week and will surely appreciate the return to this evening’s 7f trip. Grace McEntee gets on very well with her father’s four-year-old grey and is excellent value for her 7lbs claim.