Connections of Leoncavallo were left bemoaning the fact that they cannot run their horse in Saturday’s rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Ascot as a result of their hurdler not having the necessary flu vaccination within the allotted six-month period – the horse had his last jab in July.
Trainer Dr Richard Newland has not been affected by the virus and none of his horses could have been in contact with a contaminated animal. It is hard not to have some sympathy with the owners. A maximum of 16 will go to post for the race with Al Dancer 11/4 favourite at BetVictor and Getaway Trump 3/1 next best.
A cracking card at Sandown this afternoon including the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novice Chase re-routed from Warwick last weekend. The mare Dalila Du Seuil is fitted with a hood for the first time by Harry Fry having been very keen when making a winning British debut at Exeter in December. Barry Geraghty comes across from Ireland for the ride and the mare receives 7lbs from the geldings.
Supreme Novice Hurdle runner up Kalashnikov (1.50) lost his unbeaten record when runner up to Dynamite Dollars at Kempton over Christmas, but this stiffer track should suit, and he can cement his place near the top of the market for the Arkle next month. Note Amy Murphy’s star is 11/2 for the Grade 1 Novice Chase on the opening day of the Festival with BetVictor. I think the trainer would have preferred the race to be run at Warwick as the selection jumped out to the left on occasions at Kempton, but I think his class will prevail.
Sir Egbert (1.20) found the race coming too soon at Market Rasen last time but was impressive at Newbury on his penultimate start and Richard Johnson takes over in the saddle this afternoon. The selection is 6lbs higher in the weights but is only just turned six and is open to further improvement. Valhalla and Not Another Muddle look the dangers in a competitive 2m heat.
The Royal Artillery Gold Cup is a personal favourite of mine and Carlos Du Fruitier is a horse who will be winning races soon over fences, but the combination of 3m and soft ground might just stretch his stamina. He is reluctantly overlooked in favour of Rathlin Rose (3.00) who is chasing a hat-trick in the race under the wonderful Captain Guy Disney. The selection does not come into the race in great form and must give weight away all round, but he gets a narrow vote ahead of Huff And Puff who is ridden by Major harry Wallace who has also ridden the winner of this famous event twice in the last decade.
I am looking forward to the return the track of Strong Pursuit from a 460-day lay-off. He jumped beautifully to make a winning chase debut when last seen at Newbury in November 2017 although the supremely talented Topofthegame had not been asked a question when coming down six out. It will be interesting to see what the market makes of his chances from an opening mark of 136.
Darius Des Bois (4.05) got going far too late over 2m 4f here on his latest start and the step back up in trip, allied to softer ground should see him in a good light this afternoon. Teenager Mendip Express are Thedrinkymeister are others to consider in a cracking handicap chase.
At Fakenham a chance is taken with Tara Flow (2.10) on her belated chase debut at the age of nine. The mare has won four of her 10 career starts and went off far too quickly for her own good on her reappearance at Chepstow on timber. Softer ground would have suited but if it is genuinely good to soft ground I feel she might take some pegging back around these tight turns in receipt of 12lbs from the previous winners.
At Lingfield Atomic Jack (2.00) carries a 6lbs penalty for scoring at Kempton last week yet would be carrying 2lbs less if this race were run 24 hours later! Connections must feel that this is another good opportunity for the 4-y-old who has improved since being stepped up to 2m.
Kodiac Harbour belied his odds of 40/1 when a fast-finishing second at Wolverhampton on debut over 7f and the step up to a mile will suit. He must go close but Iconic Girl (2.35) looked a sure-fire improver when staying on off the pace over 7f on her racecourse debut and she can improve past her rivals with that experience under her belt.
Tralee Hills (4.15) was caught out wide throughout last time over C&D and, in the circumstances, ran a decent race. The selection is now rated 5lbs lower on the all-weather than he is on turf and he gets the vote in the competitive 12f handicap.