12.20 Wetherby – Racing UK In Glorious HD Handicap Chase.

It could be a big day for trainer Neil King who saddles his stable star Lil Rockerfeller in the West Yorkshire Hurdle later on the card, but he also looks to have a strong contender in the opener with DELGANY DEMON. The nine-year-old may still be a maiden over fences but he does have some smart form in the book, and has dropped to a very appealing handicap mark. Most notably he was second to Henri Parry Morgan at Uttoxeter, who subsequently finished second in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase behind Native River at the 2016 Grand National meeting. Then last season he chased home Royal Vacation at Lingfield, who then went on to win a Novice Handicap Chase off 143 at Cheltenham having fortunately won the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase beforehand. It is also worth mentioning his penultimate run in which he was again second, this time behind Coolking, who followed up under a 7lbs penalty by 14 lengths, suggesting he again ‘bumped into one’. It may be a case that this horse always finds a way to get beat but this represents his most realistic chance of winning over fences dropping into a Class 4 (0-120).

The son of Kayf Tara also has a good record fresh (form figures of 2322 over the past four seasons) and was second off 125 in 2015 and second (behind Royal Vacation) off 128 in 2016. It is also pleasing to see the stable in fine form, sending out 3 winners and 3 runners-up from just 11 runners over the last 14 days (doesn’t take into account Friday’s racing!).


Looking at some of the other contenders and Dalkondike is an obvious one hailing from the powerful David Pipe stable. Being just a five-year-old he is the least exposed in the field so has to be taken very seriously, especially having had a recent run (also chase debut). However, it is a little alarming that connections are reaching for first time cheek pieces so early in his career. He will also be taking on some battle-hardened chasers so is passed over here, despite his potential to be ahead of his mark.

Zanstra has also had a recent run, but look held by Bells Of Ailsworth on their Taunton form. The latter still looks feasibly well-handicapped off a 3lbs higher mark (technically 6lbs higher as Alan Johns can no longer claim) but will need to be fit and ready to go to defy this mark on the back of a 198-day absensce, especially on ground which is softer than ideal (both wins over fences had been on good and good to firm going).


Krackatoa King was a winner of a three-runner event on his final start of last season, but the time before had finished behind Delgany Demon and has appeared to need to the run on his two most recent seasonal debuts. He can’t be ruled out though and could be the main danger to the selection.


Of the others I would be very dubious of the form of Tickenwolf’s victory two starts ago, especially after he ran out last time, and is over-looked despite Finian O’Toole claiming a valuable 5lbs. Leaving Highway Storm and Basford Ben as the final two to note. The former ran well off this mark back in June on his second start for Richard Hobson and has plenty of scope for improvement after just five chase starts; he should also benefit for returning back to 3m. Meanwhile, it’s hard to make a case for the latter on the back of three consecutive poor displays, and even though he was a course and distance winner back in 2013, seems to save his best at Carlisle these days.
Overall, a case can be made for a few of these but Neil King’s DELGANY DEMON makes plenty of each-way appeal dropping down to a 0-120. He has plenty of strong placed form to his name, and with a good record fresh and his yard in fine form, looks poised for a big run.

Advice



DELGANY DEMON – 1pt e/w @ 10/1 (bet365) (1/4 odds)





1.35 Ayr – Guinness Handicap Chase.




Although he takes on some more experienced chasers here, CYRUS DARIUS showed enough on his sole start in a Perth novice back in 2015 to suggest that an opening mark of 137 grossly underestimates him. Injury caused him to miss the best part of a year and a half after that run but he returned at the top of his game earlier this year when hosing up in the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso in February. He contested the Champion Hurdle on the back of that and was duly well beaten, but this is a long way below that level. Malcolm Jefferson’s string seem to be in characteristically fine early season form (Cloudy Dream was only narrowly beaten in the Old Roan last Sunday) and if he is ready to roll first time up, this could be a penalty kick for him.


The fact that he receives 1lb from his likely biggest rivals makes him look even more appealing. Nevertheless, Kayf Adventure is a fine horse in his own right and looked a decent chaser in the making when scoring at the first time of asking over the larger obstacles in a Newton Abbot novice event a month ago. A 10lb rise for that effort though makes things a lot tougher but he should be the one to follow the selection home.


Captain Redbeard came into his own at the turn of the year and would have a chance on his best form but he always seems to run his best races in the mid-latter part of the season so may well need a few runs before we see him as a contender.



Advice



CYRUS DARIUS – 2pts win @ 5/2 (bet365)




1.50 Ascot – Ascot Underwriting Chase.



This looks an interesting early-season chase for the novices where we are likely to see how some of the summer form stacks up against the winter performers.


Bagad Bihoue has been on the go since May and quickly notched up four victories over the larger obstacles in relatively quick succession. He failed to fire at Cartmel soon after but having been beaten in a match by his stablemate at Newton Abbot, he ran well for a long way when unseating at Fakenham last time. It is quite possible he would have played a leading part had he stood up and he looks one of the more likely contenders here, especially with Bryony Frost taking a useful 5lb off his back.

Another with plenty of experience under his belt is Cobra De Mai who has won three of his five starts over fences to date. He was pitched in against much more experienced rivals when fifth at Cheltenham last weekend but ran ok, shaping as though a step up in trip may suit him. He gets that this afternoon and he should be thereabouts.
Nicky Henderson’s Ballinure has mixed hurdling and chasing this summer but aside from a below-par effort at Worcester in June, he looks to have taken well to the larger obstacles. The form of his latest win at Stratford has worked out particularly well with the runner-up winning a handicap at Ludlow next time, which suggests that Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old should be up to defying his current mark of 128.


However, there are a couple of interesting chasing debutants to take note of, the first being Copain De Classe who won twice last term for Paul Nicholls. His trainer believes that the five-year-old is better on a sounder surface which he looks likely to get here and he looks a nice chasing prospect. The one question mark I would have is that he won both his novice hurdles over 2m and was beaten both times he tackled 2m4f but it is still early days so perhaps he can put that right here.


But the one I like the look of most is BENATAR who showed steady improvement throughout last season over hurdles. He made a winning debut for his connections at Fontwell in January and finished the season with a fine run in Grade 1 company, finishing fourth behind Finian’s Oscar at Aintree. He won his only Irish point by fifteen lengths so he looks an exciting prospect for the larger obstacles and with the overall form of those with experience not especially high here, I think he makes plenty of appeal.




Advice




BENATAR – 1pt win @ 11/2 (William Hill)






2.25 Ascot – Byrne Group Handicap Chase.





Venetia Williams is always a force in the valuable handicap chases and like so many others, this has proved a happy hunting ground in recent years with a third of the last nine winners. She is solely represented this time round by Calipto, who it’s probably fair to say hasn’t quite hit the heights he threatened to reach as a juvenile hurdler. Nevertheless, he did show a fair level of form in two runs in his new surroundings last term, not beaten far back from nearly a year off the track when sixth in the Grand Annual before tipping up when well in contention in a Listed handicap at Ayr’s Scottish Grand National meeting. That was a heavy fall though and given his pretty sketchy profile in the last couple of years, I couldn’t be backing him with any confidence.


Therefore, preference is for MARRACUDJA, who should be ideally suited to the conditions and has the benefit of a pipe-opener at Kempton under his belt. He just ran out of puff on his seasonal bow when conceding a lot of weight all round, but still ran up to his mark with a solid runners-up effort over a longer trip than ideal. He was highly-tried as a novice last campaign but this looks a more reasonable opportunity and a mark of 141 doesn’t look to overestimate him at all. A big run is expected.

Top weight Theinval is a horse I like a lot but I think he looks to have a big task on his seasonal debut conceding weight all round here. His two length second to Cloudy Dream in the Grade 2 Future Champion Novices’ Chase is the best form on offer, especially considering he finished second in the handicap Calipto fell in just 24 hours earlier, and he can be forgiven a below-par effort at Sandown a week later where he was likely feeling the effects of his exertions. I reluctantly backed him when third in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham, where he ran a blinder in truth, but I just get the impression that he is better over further than the extended 2m on offer here.


Of the remainder, Max Ward is interesting having finished fourth in the Grade 1 Manifesto Novices’ Chase at Aintree’s Grand National Meeting on his final start last term. However, he is another who I think will be more effective over a slightly longer trip than what he faces today. Last year’s winner Quite By Chance produced a dominant round of jumping 12 months ago but is now 9lb higher and looks to have his work cut out on these terms while Speredek goes in search of a four-timer but has a career-high mark to contend with and may just come on for the run.



Advice





MARRACUDJA – 1pt win @ 9/2 (bet365)







3.00 Ascot – William Hill Handicap Hurdle (Listed Race)





No national hunt meeting at Ascot would be completed without an ultra-competitive handicap hurdle and this looks a typically tough puzzle to solve.


The weights are headed by Air horse One who improved throughout last season, completing a hat-trick of victories when winning over 2m4f here in February. He also showed he could be competitive off his raised mark when fourth in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham before running below-par at Punchestown on his final start. In an ideal world I would imagine he would prefer to be running over 2m4f but he has showed plenty of toe in the past, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go close off top weight.
Also sitting towards the head of the weights is High Bridge who enjoyed a successful novice season last term, for all he was outclassed in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. His form prior to that run was steadily progressive although it is hard to know what to make of his mark of 140. Alex Ferguson, who claims 7lb has ridden the six-year-old on each of his last four starts so knows the horse well and of course the weight he takes off is valuable in a compact handicap such as this one.
The market leader at this stage looks likely to be Nicky Henderson’s Jenkins, who this time last year was amongst the leading fancies for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. However, his jumping let him down badly at Christmas when he was fourth behind Elgin and although he won at Ffos Las in April, that form was some way short of what is likely to be required to win here. The yard still retain plenty of faith in the five-year-old and for all he could win, I think he should be a good deal bigger than the 9/2 currently on offer.


Paul Nicholls is normally not too far away in this race and he saddles Dolos this time around. The four-year-old made a pleasing return to action at Chepstow in October, travelling well before just being outpointed in the closing stages by Silver Streak. It is worth noting that he was conceding over a stone to the winner that day and there is every chance that he will be better suited by carrying a lower weight in this sort of company. Stan Sheppard has ridden the horse on three of his last four starts but you would imagine Sam Twiston-Davies would have had the choice and he partners Caid Du Lin instead.


However, the one I am coming around to is ELGIN who had some solid form as a novice, winning his first two starts before chasing home Neon Wolf at Haydock in January. He was second again in Grade 2 company after that and finished just ahead of High Bridge in the Supreme. He looked to have quite a tough job on his hands to concede weight to all of his rivals at Chepstow on his return but shaped well for a long way. He ran like he might just come on for the run that day which the yard’s runners tend to do so I would expect him to strip fitter here. The runners from the King yard have been running well of late and with fitness on his side, I think he has a solid each-way chance at around the 13/2 mark.




Advice




ELGIN – 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (Paddy Power) (4 places)






3.15 Wetherby – bet365 Charlie Hall Chase (Grade 2)





This looks to be a fascinating early-season contest with two old favourites Coneygree and Cue Card vying for favouritism.


2015 Gold Cup winner Coneygree makes his eagerly-anticipated seasonal return having not enjoyed the best of luck with injuries since his big race success. After becoming the first novice to win the Gold Cup since 1974 he has only been able to race three times since, due to injuries and also his need for softer ground. On his first start of last season he took on Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock and ran very well to finish second to that rival having been off for a year.


Unfortunately he was not seen again until April this year when he was involved in one of the races of the 2016/17, finishing third in the Punchestown Gold Cup. This performance showed that he retained all of his ability as he was only beaten a length and a half by the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John, with Djakadam in second. Trainer Mark Bradstock believes that the ten-year-old is now as good as ever and he will have his favoured conditions on Saturday. He also escapes a penalty having not won for nearly two years so carries 6lb less than Cue Card. If he is able to run up to form then Coneygree looks sure to make a bold bid to land the Charlie Hall.


Cue Card is one of the most popular horses in training and Colin Tizzard hopes that he will be able improve on last year’s third place finish in this race; he was also successful in this contest in 2015. Making his seasonal debut in the Charlie Hall last year (as he does this time around) he finished a close third behind Irish Cavalier having travelled strongly through the race. That run set him up for another successful season as he went on to record two Grade 1 victories in the winning Betfair and Ascot Chases. The eleven-year-old looks likely to put up a big effort again at Wetherby, but may find it difficult to concede weight to Coneygree on soft ground.


Preference is for the Brian Ellison-trained DEFINITLY RED to provide the biggest challenge to the pair at the head of the market. He has a strong record at Wetherby, winning once and finishing runner-up on his two starts at the course. Both of those runs have come against Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Blaklion who reopposes again on Saturday. On the first occasion in the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase in February 2016, Blaklion saw out the race stronger on the heavy ground but DEFINITLY RED reversed the form later that year on Boxing Day. He landed the Grade 3 Rowland Meyrick Handicap in good style that day on the better ground with Blaklon in third. After that run he was unfortunate to unseat his rider when hampered in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock but bounced back to land the Grimthorpe Handicap at Doncaster in impressive fashion by fourteen lengths from Kim Bailey’s The Last Samuri. He was then well-fancied for the Grand National before he was badly-hampered and had to be pulled-up. DEFINITLY RED has a good record fresh, winning on his seasonal debut last year, and he can run well against the two favourites in the Charlie Hall at a course he enjoys running at.




Advice





DEFINITLY RED – 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (Ladbrokes, Paddy Power)






3.35 Ascot – Sodexo Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3)




Where better to start with this extremely competitive Graded handicap chase than with last year’s winner, Antony. Gary Moore’s seven-year-old was an impressive winner of the race 12 months ago and goes into this year’s contest on just a 4lb higher mark, so you would think he’d go there with a live chance. However, his form after winning this dipped significantly, beaten 34 lengths at Newbury then pulled up at Cheltenham, and his trainer’s post-race comments (“It’s a massive surprise to me to be totally honest”) seem to suggest that it could just have been a flash in the pan. He did reappear with a useful effort to finish third at Fontwell off a 2lb higher mark, but I think this year’s contest is stronger than last year’s and he might have a bit to do to be competitive.


That race at Fontwell was won by a horse that re-opposes again today, Go Conquer, and his position at the head of the market looks fairly well justified. He was impressive there and his excellent jumping will stand him in good stead around a track that is always a good examination of that skill. But, even though he’s looked as if three miles on good ground would be within his compass, it’s not a trip that he’s ever been successful over and I have a nagging doubt that his front-running, bold jumping style doesn’t allow him to conserve enough to finish strongly at this distance. Couple that with the fact that he’ll be running off a career-high mark of 142 and the uncertain weather forecast (7-10mm forecast on Friday night/Saturday morning) and Jonjo O’Neill’s eight-year-old might well be a favourite worth taking on.


Sticking with form lines related to last year’s race, Emma Lavelle’s Junction Fourteen was a good second in the race 12 months ago and races off a 6lb lower mark – his last winning mark of 141 – this time around. Like Antony though, his form tailed off that season and he’s got plenty to prove. He didn’t go a yard at the Festival and was pulled up, while it was a similar story at Market Rasen in September when he spat the dummy out completely. His run at Chepstow in October was much better, finishing nine lengths fourth, but the way he threw the towel in after being headed (tried to make all) was concerning. He’ll certainly have competition for the lead here and I’d want to be sure that his enthusiasm for the game was intact before backing him, even though he’s on a tempting mark.


Fourth Act was fourth in last year’s contest off a 4lb higher mark and returns for another crack here – I think he might well be the one from that race who’s most likely to go well again this time. He may not have had a run yet this season, but his record first time out is decent (2,1,4 over the last three years including last year’s fourth in this) and Colin Tizzard usually has his horses raring to go. A mark of 133 certainly looks workable judging by last year’s contest, even though he’ll have to improve on the showings he put together towards the end of last season, and with Sean Bowen booked to ride, he might go well at a big price.


He fits the weight profile of many of the winners of this race in that five of the last six carried 10st 10lb or less, but is a bit older than the last four winners who were all either six or seven. This shows that the last few renewals of the race have seen the profile of the winner shift to a younger, more progressive type who can take advantage of many of the ‘big names’ having their first runs of the season while carrying plenty of weight. The likes of Carole’s Destrier, Art Mauresque, Regal Encore and The Young Master are all appearing for the first time this season carrying more than 11st (disregarding jockeys’ claims) and might be using this as a pipe opener as such. Still, Neil Mulholland’s The Young Master does hold some very interesting claims if you consider his past form and his jockey’s 5lb claim meaning he runs off a mark that is effectively 140. He won the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park in 2016 off a mark of 148 and even if you factor in Sam Waley-Cohen’s 3lb claim, he’s still carrying 5lb less here. He also won a Listed Handicap Chase here over C&D in 2014 off a mark of 144, so there’s clearly the potential for him to bounce back in a big way. However, I think their season will once again revolve around the Grand National and if that’s the case, connections won’t want him too far away from his current mark of 145.


Braqueur D’Or certainly fits the bill of an improving young chaser and Paul Nicholls’ six-year-old was very impressive when winning at Ludlow on his last appearance off a mark of 129. He’s been given a 10lb hike here in what is undoubtedly a much better race so he’ll have to have been every bit as good as that visual impression suggested to defy it. While he’s race fit and in-form, the balance of his form so far just doesn’t look good enough to challenge at this level and even though he’s sat near the head of the market, it’ll have to be one hell of an effort to win a race like this, especially if the ground goes onto the soft side of good.


One who didn’t quite live up to the early promise of his novice season was Harry Whittington’s Emerging Force – after two good novice chase wins, the RSA or Four Miler at the Festival were mentioned, but after finding himself outpaced in two runs at Cheltenham and Aintree, more severe tests of stamina look ideal for him. His mark of 139 isn’t bad by any means, but it doesn’t look like a gift either, so he might be best watched for another day – he looks a nice type for a National.


A horse that seemed to be tipped up for every race he’s ever run in is Harry Fry’s Thomas Brown, but he’s often flattered to deceive, especially last season where he only really put it all together once – when winning at Aintree off a 1lb lower mark than he runs off today. That was on his seasonal debut, so it may be that fresh is the best time to catch him, but that race didn’t look that strong and the step up to three miles poses a big question of the eight-year-old.


Instead, I’m drawn to the seven-year-old BALLYKAN from Nigel Twiston-Davies’ stable. He was a good third behind Rock The Kasbah on his seasonal reappearance at Chepstow, one place in front of Junction Fourteen, despite racing keenly through the early stages of the race and remains on the same mark for this contest. The booking of Jamie Bargary is an excellent one as his 3lb claim effectively means the son of Presenting races off 134, his lowest mark since winning twice in a row in the summer of 2016 and one much lower than when he ran very well in Kempton and Cheltenham contests at this same Grade 3 handicap level last season. He’ll surely have come on plenty for that good Chepstow run and he enjoys these big-field contests, especially when there’s a decent pace on in front of him – something he should get here. Three miles around a right-handed track on good to soft ground is ideal for him and his usually excellent jumping and experience of these big field contests should stand him in good stead – he looks a very good bet at what seems a huge price of 16/1.




Advice




BALLYKAN – 1pt e/w @ 16/1 (William Hill) (4 places 1/4 odds)






3.45 Wetherby – bet365 Handicap Hurdle.





Likely to start favourite here is the Warren Greatrex-trained mare, Carnspindle, who closed out last season with a very good effort in defeat to Midnight Tour in a Listed handicap hurdle at Cheltenham. She was a hugely progressive sort and if she carries that improvement through her summer break, she’ll be very competitive off a 4lb higher mark. However, she did seem to need her first run last season in a bumper and I wonder whether sending her over fences is the ultimate aim. She’ll be prominently ridden here in a race that looks as if it could be full of pace, so she’ll have to be very fit to sustain the gallop end to end and I think I’d prefer one more quietly ridden, especially on seasonal debut.


Zeroeshadesofgrey and Querry horse will be two to help set the pace and with both reverting from chasing this season combined with carrying plenty of weight, I’ll look elsewhere. Boruma did a Cartmel double in the summer, but has gone up to a mark of 125 now, one that seemed way beyond him at that venue back in July and August, so he’s overlooked, while Canton Prince doesn’t quite look to have the class to carry quite so much weight and might be best watched until he drops down the handicap a little.
Zig Zag is an interesting horse – now with Philip Kirby after running plenty last season for Joseph O’Brien, he was a good second to Vivas over this trip at Uttoxeter in September. That rival went on to run very well in a competitive event at Cheltenham off a 4lb higher mark, so with Zig Zag up 4lb as well, there’s reason to believe he’ll run well here too. He was ninth in the Fred Winter last season off a mark of 127, so 125 could be a mark that’s workable for the five-year-old.


Ben Pauling’s Raven’s Tower looks as if he’s on a nice mark over hurdles and was a good second to Cool Macavity on his first run this season. That rival fell when travelling very nicely two out in a better event than this at Cheltenham on his next run, so a 2lb rise for this horse looks lenient. However, all his best form has come at the bare 2m and every time he’s tried this longer trip, he’s come up well short, so he’s swerved on that basis but if he pops up in a 2m handicap hurdle at this kind of level soon, he’s worth plenty of interest.


One contender who looks very unexposed and worthy of plenty of respect is the Philip Hobbs-trained Ice Cool Champs. The six-year-old is very lightly raced and showed plenty of promise in his two novice hurdles last season, even though it did look as if proper soft ground would be important to him. This intermediate trip is a good starting point, but I wonder whether he’ll be better over further in time and the risk here would be that he’d be outpaced at a crucial stage before staying on late.

Another unexposed horse who does look as if he possesses the required turn of foot is BOYHOOD, trained by Tom George. A winner over this trip at Doncaster on good to soft ground, this horse did look quite green and inexperienced at times last season, hanging and not seeming to concentrate, but with those four runs over hurdles under his belt now as well as a summer to strengthen up, you would think that he’ll have improved a bundle. Of course, jockey A P Heskin must settle him early on, but the likely strong pace on here should help. Even though he disappointed off a mark 1lb higher on his final run last season, that was over almost three miles and this drop back to two and a half miles should be much more suitable – his best piece of form, a run behind Geordie Des Champs at Aintree with the likes of Winningtry, Wylde Magic and Louis’ Vac Pouch well behind, looks pretty strong in the context of this race and if he’s fit and ready to go on this seasonal debut, a reproduction of that would see him go close, even without the expected improvement. I think this Oscar gelding could be a young handicapper to follow this season and a victory here would set him up very nicely indeed.
Judging by his cosy victory at Chepstow to finish last season, Diamond Fort could be a threat to the selection even though he has been raised 7lb for that win. Fergal O’Brien’s team are in good shape at the moment and with Paddy Brennan booked, it looks as if a decent run is expected but he wouldn’t want the ground to get too testing.

Advice




BOYHOOD – 0.5pts e/w @ 13/2 (Paddy Power) (1/4 odds)