At the overnight stage, we’re looking at an average of under seven runners per race, which means by almost any measurement; entertainment, income, televisual experience, interest, competition and form, it is an unsatisfactory state. If that sounds as though I am disgruntled, yes I am. Part of that is down to Charlie Brooks who writes well in the Telegraph and who always makes salient points with which I agree. Sadly that’s it – nothing seems to change. A new BHA chairperson will arrive soon, and it will be some worthy who thinks this is a posh job rather than a grindingly awful job full of endless recriminations and finger-pointing. He will appoint half a dozen gate-keepers who will be given shiny new keys to the gun cabinet from which, six months after he or she has arrived, they will collectively pull out their weapons and shoot themselves in the foot. Please peeps, just take time out to think things through and simply say No, Yes, Do This Now, rather than Maybe, Consider, and Committee.
Before the TV racing, there is a race that might be worth keeping an eye on, which is the 1:30 Altcar Novice Chase at Haydock. There are a couple here that will almost certainly appear at Cheltenham, SAM BROWNE and KNIGHT IN DUBAI. I think the former is a possible star and will almost literally soak up the ground which he will really enjoy. The latter is a trends horse in an interesting race. Not suggesting a bet, just watch and take note. Meanwhile…
1:50 ASCOT bet365 Mares’ Hurdle (Registered As The Warfield) (Grade 2) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m7½f ITV4 6 runners
Jessica Harrington is running last year’s winning mare and Grand National 2nd MAGIC OF LIGHT, but someone said she may not turn up?? Even if she did, my preference is narrowly for SENSULANO who is now 3 from 4 over fences and albeit she has a slight tendency to jump to her right, looks as though she can contain likely favourite PAPAGANA.
2:05 HAYDOCK Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) Cl1 (4yo+) 1m7½f ITV4 4 runners
Not sure what NTD’s plan is for STOLEN SILVER who I had noted as being decent and probably needing further. I know I’m not a trainer, but I felt my brain do the equivalent of sitting up on its haunches and wondering WTF. He holds an entry in the Betfair Hurdle. EDWARDSTONE will take this, having taken care of Fiddlerontheroof, (went on to take the Tolworth), when winning his November hurdles debut at Wincanton, and repeating his success at Aintree next time.
2:25 ASCOT Matchbook Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m3½f ITV4 8 runners
BOLD PLAN looks progressive and I’m taking the 9/2 currently available with Bet365. Will definitely be shorter tomorrow. BALLYMOY has been expensive to back this season and NTD looks as though the penny has dropped and as the horse is within 2lbs of his last winning mark AND he won this last year, putting him back over hurdles at a ground he likes is simply too good a chance to miss. I’ll take the 7/1 currently available e/w
2:40 HAYDOCK Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (A Limited Handicap) (Grade 2) Cl1 (5yo+) 3m1½f ITV4 10 runners
This is really tricky and reluctantly I have it down to two – VINTAGE CLOUDS and MIDNIGHT TUNE. Sue Smith has won this race four times in the last 16 runnings, including last year’s winner Wacanda and this time she brings Trevor Hemmings’ Vintage Clouds to the party. He’s top on my trends and thanks to the presence of Definitely Red who keeps the weights down, he looks to have a decent mark. MIDNIGHT TUNE is only penalised 5lbs for her last win and comes here with ideal conditions, including a decent weight.
3:00 ASCOT bet365 Handicap Chase Cl2 (5yo+) 2m5f ITV4 11 runners
The likely favourite is ESPOIR DE GUYE who (were such a thing possible) sneered at, his 9lb hike LTO here in the Plymouth Gin in December and looks like an animal on a steep upward curve. I suspect this might be the last time we see him before perhaps The Close Brothers Novice Chase on the opening day. My only concern will be the ground in March – at the moment it’s fine. If there is a long-shot here it’s probably KAYF ADVENTURE, who keeps looking as though he might deliver and just keep dropping short. A safer e/w would be the other adventure SAMS ADVENTURE, but I’m not going to back him at around 6s. If he drifts out I’ll have another look.
3:15 HAYDOCK The New One Unibet Hurdle (Registered As The Champion Hurdle Trial Hurdle) (Grade 2) Cl1 (4yo+) 1m7½f ITV4 4 runners
CORNERSTONE LAD is a front-runner who looks progressive and impressive. He beat Buveur D’Air by a short head in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle LTO which was a new PB mark for him. The ground will suit but weight concessions might undo him.
3:35 ASCOT Matchbook Clarence House Chase (Grade 1) Cl1 (5yo+) 2m1f ITV4 5 runners
The Clarence House has, for the last 12 years, only had two runnings with 8 or more runnings. Just saying…
UN DE SCEAUX has won this three times before and meets DEFI DU SEUIL in what I shall watch with interest only. There was only a neck between them in the Tingle Creek at Sandown last month, with DDS coming out on top – possibly thanks to the benefit of a recent run. Un De Sceaux will be sharper and heavy ground will also favour the veteran. JANIKA possibly for unlikely forecasts. No Bet, but probably UDS