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A big-field handicap where it is hard to be confident about any of these, but FIRST ASSEMBLY makes the most appeal. He remains a maiden, but has shown enough in handicaps to suggest he is up to winning races from this mark, and the switch to this more galloping track should be in his favour.
He didn’t seem suited by the sharp nature of the track at Taunton last time, and the long straight here should allow him to build momentum. Friary Land seems to be building up to something for Olly Murphy and is next on the list.
ROYAL PRETENDER is probably more of a long-term project, but he is making steady progress and now finds himself in a maiden hurdle lacking any real depth. He wasn’t beaten fair by a couple of useful sorts when finishing third in a maiden hurdle at Ascot in November, taking a step forward from his hurdling debut while not yet looking the finished article.
Royal Pretender was outpaced a little on the home turn but stuck to the task well in the straight and that form is the best on offer here. With more improvement forthcoming, he should be able to open his account here.
Both Stratagem and Ballymoy have something to prove over fences so it could be worth chancing MINELLA TRUMP, who was a two-time winner over hurdles and made a promising debut over fences when third to two subsequent winners in a novice handicap at Carlisle in November.
Admittedly, he failed to build on that promise when well beaten at this course last time, not at all jumping well and running no sort of race. It is worth ignoring that at this early stage and he could give his two rivals something to think about here.
TRUCKERS PASS cost connections £175,000 after finishing runner-up in a point and he has filled the same position on each of his three starts under Rules. He had some solid form in bumpers last season and was strong in the betting ahead of his hurdling debut at Ffos Las in October, but he lost out to one with more experience who has since won again, so the form looks solid. Truckers Pass looks a sure-fire improver now and can deservedly get his head in front.
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There are some potential improvers on show here and BIG NASTY, who arrives on the back of a positive reappearance, tops the shortlist. He was inconsistent last season, but showed ability on more than one occasion and plugged on well to be third on his first run for nine months at Wetherby last time. Big Nasty has long left the impression that he would be suited by further than three miles, and this longer trip could unlock further improvement, so he looks the one to side with off top weight.
The most appealing of these is the unexposed handicap debutante GETAWEAPON, who lost no caste in defeat when following Misty Whisky home in a novice at Ludlow last month. That form was done no harm at all when the winner finished second in the Lanzarote at Kempton on Saturday. Based on that run, an opening mark of 115 looks very workable and Getaweapon is expected to resume winning ways.
FLEMENSTIDE and Top of The Bill are both engaged at Exeter on Sunday, but arrive on the back of solid debut efforts and are the pair to focus on. The former was really getting the hang of things late on when second at Sandown in November and can live up to his expensive price tag now. If that pair aren’t turned out quickly, then Nicky Henderson’s well-bred, interesting newcomer will be the one to focus on.
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