* All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widgets, while odds in copy are accurate at time of publishing but subject to change.
A really open betting contest for those horses that just failed to get into one of the big staying handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival. However, this is a very different race being right-handed, on good ground and a much sharper track where speed is the most important factor.
That last point is one of the main reasons I have backed Gary Moore’s VORASHANN despite an inexplicably poor run last time out at Chepstow. He was just never really travelling that afternoon, but had previously hacked up by 15 lengths in a Class Three event at Fontwell Park.
Rated 80 on the level, this will be only his seventh start over timber and this good ground combined with his flat speed on this sharp track just about adds up to being the perfect set-up for him. He has every chance of turning into a 140+ horse, so a mark of 127 should be well within his capabilities, even if this is a step up in class.
Course and distance winner My Way looks sure to be near the head of the betting following his success here three weeks ago. However, his jumping wasn’t always that fluent that afternoon (missed the last when coming under pressure) and a hefty penalty will certainly have an impact on him.
Top weight Falco Blitz also came under serious consideration despite his steadier of top weight. He has been racing on unsuitably soft ground for the majority of his career, but showed he is a ‘good ground’ horse when he bolted up in a maiden hurdle and he gets his spring conditions for the first time since then.
But, both of their prices ensures there are a load of each-way alternatives and the pick could well be the MELLOW BEN could be the one. Richard Johnson set an almost unsustainable pace in the big 3m handicap on him last time out here, but this drop in trip is surely much more in his favour on a sound surface he so loves. Formerly his regular jockey, Tom Cannon takes over from the former champion and if he gets the fractions right, he could steal this from the front.
The Marstons Midlands Grand National will be run on much better ground than normal,which should see plenty more of the 22 declared runners in with a chance at the end of the gruelling 4-and-a-quarter mile trip.
Jonjo O’Neill skipped the Cheltenham Festival with Time To Get Up and this has obviously been the plan for a long time. Two of his last three runs suggest this assignment will suit him perfectly and he could very well be chucked in.
However, I am prepared to let him win at the available odds and have an each-way play on something else and TRUCKIN AWAY fits the bill. The Phillip Hobbs-trained runner is not as unexposed as the market leader, but this will still only be his 13th start under rules (eighth over fences) and he has shaped as though a serious test of stamina could bring the best out of him.
I was particularly impressed by his running on effort at Ludlow in December (track too sharp) and he fulfilled that promise with an easy success at Doncaster on December 29. Kept fresh since then and with the ground coming in his favour, this promising eight-year-old has a solid each-way chance alongside the Skelton’s Tommy Rapper and my saver in the form of Welsh National fifth Prime Venture.
I am going a bit off piste for our final selection of the day, so my apologies, but at this very low level I have been following this six-year-old for some time. The booking of Oisin Murphy is a really big pointer to COURTSIDE‘s chance here and a handicap rating of 59 is certainly not to be sniffed at, having won off 69 in his time and several times placed off a 78.
But, the biggest factor in assessing his chance is the degree of pace in the field. He certainly didn’t have that two outings back when he could never get into the race from the back of the pack, in a contest literally run at a snails’ pace.
However, last time out at Chelmsford City they went a nice even pace over a mile-and-a-quarter and at a track that favours front runners, the son of Siyouni did well to finish as close as a never-nearer fifth, beaten 3-and-a-quarter lengths. There seems to be enough pace in this race to bring his finishing kick into play and it goes without saying that he is most definitely handicapped to land a second career win.
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