2-55 BETFAIR GRAND NATIONAL TRIAL (GRADE 3 HANDICAP) – 3 M 5 F
Emperor’s Choice came right back to his very best at Ffos Las and he loves nothing more than a war in the mud. His last three wins have come on ground officially described as heavy so conditions this afternoon will be in his favour.
He has a relatively light weight to carry compared to many of his rivals and the Venetia Williams yard is in the form of it’s life. Aidan Coleman has partnered this seven year old in five out of his six career wins and although he wouldn’t be the quickest horse to see a racetrack, he is economical with his jumping.
Loch Ba was doing all of his best work in the closing stages at Warwick last time out when he finished fourth to Shotgun Paddy. Prior to that he was an decent runner up at this track for Harry Bannister who is once again on board this afternoon. He receives weight all around as a result of the jockey’s claim and the duo could pose the biggest threat.
It often pays to side with lowly weighted individuals in races of this nature. Four out of the last five previous winners have carried no more than eleven stone and three pounds to victory. Across The Bay is a class act on his day and whilst he will be suited by conditions, he has to give up almost two stone to some of his rivals.
Hawkes Point and Wychwoods Brook are in decent form but likewise look to have too much weight, whilst Our Father may not appreciate ground this deep. Well Refreshed and Rigadin De Beauchene were the first two home in this race last year but both were in much better form then and they are now. Emperor’s Choice still looks to be on a decent handicap mark and he can make his presence felt here.
3-30 PERTEMPS NETWORK HANDICAP HURDLE – 3 MILES
Horatio Hornblower showed exactly what he was capable of at Ffos Las last month. That was his first run in just over a year and he is entitled to improve plenty from it. He gets weight from some younger rivals and he can use it to his advantage.
Chavoy won a similar handicap at Ayr last time out for Rebecca Menzies and Tony Kelly. He has only had six career starts in the UK thusfar and is still unexposed. He could still improve on what we have seen to date. He will certainly be in the thick of the action and will be staying on when others have cried enough.
Open Day is the choice of the AP McCoy he is at least proven on ground as desperate as this. He has been off the track since last October and he may just need the run.. Trainer Jonjo O’ Neill is also represented by Flemenson. He is the mount of Maurice Linehan and they face handicaps together for the first time this afternoon.
Being a son of Flemensfirth he will act on the ground. He does lack the experience of his rivals here though and may find things happening just a little too quickly. This is a significant rise in grade for both San Telm and Wolf Shield. They too may just find themselves a little out of their depth in this sort of company.
Horatio Hornblower’s first run came in a listed race at Ascot. The yard clearly think a lot of him and he can reward them with a decent showing in his most competitive race to date.
3-50 BETFAIR ASCOT CHASE (GRADE 1) – 2 M 5 F 110 YDS
Captain Chris can reverse recent form with Riverside Theatre now that he meets him on ten pounds better terms. The difference should be more than enough to overturn a defecit of less than a length when beaten by that rival when they last clashed in the Peterborough Chase at Exeter.
Captain Chris will revel in these testing conditions far more so than his old rival and that can make the difference this afternoon.
Cloudy Too was an emphatic winner of the Rowland Meyrick chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day and is certainly on the upgrade. Sue Smith has been in decent form this Winter and he could well prove to be a thorn in the side of the selection. Rolling Aces is another that should not be underestimated. He revelled in the mud at Down Royal before fluffing his lines at Sandown.
Paul Nicholls is likely to have him spot on for this and Noel Fehily takes the reigns for the first time. A useful sort on his day, he should be capable of making the frame.
Hunt Ball returns to the UK following a brief stint in the United States. He is certainly in the right yard to help further his career, but this may be a prep run for one of the major handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival next month.
Captain Chris can enhance the excellent records that favourites have in this race for a very much in form Phillip Hobbs team.
4-20 MARTINSTOWN OPPORTUNITY HANDICAP HURDLE – 2 MILES
Sizing Australia is the class act in this line up and Henry De Bromhead will be using this race as a stepping stone for Cheltenham next month. He showed that he maintained his ability to compete at this level by winning a similar event at Wexford back in October under today’s jockey in Kevin Sexton.
Court Jester has been in good form of late and was only denied by a head on his most recent start at Down Royal. He receives lumps of weight from Sizing Australia and if putting in a similar display, he could give him the most to do.
Westerner’s Son ultimately found Getoutwhenyoucan far too strong at Thurles last time. He has gone up another three pounds in the ratings as a result and may find a couple too good once again. Spacious Sky is proven over the course and distance and represents a shrewd trainer in Tony Martin. He could make the frame at a decent price on ground he will love.
Sizing Australia goes well fresh and can defy a near three month absence to land this race enroute to another tilt at the Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham festival.
[table] Course, Pick
SAT HAYDOCK 2-55, EMPEROR’S CHOICE
SAT HAYDOCK 3-30, HORATIO HORNBLOWER (E/W)
SAT ASCOT 3-50, CAPTAIN CHRIS
SUN NAVAN 4-20, SIZING AUSTRALIA [/table]