If you have a winner at the Open meeting – all the trainer, jockeys and owners immediately wonder they’ll be back at the Festival next March. They have every right to wonder.
Coneygree, Fingal Bay, Taquin de Seuil, Dynaste, Imperial Commander, Albertas Run, Spothedifference, Fondmort & Josies Orders are just a few who all won at this meeting, before going on to win at the Festival. It’s not always been in the same season but they’ve been Festival champions none the less.
For some trainers it is the first real target of the season. I was stable jockey to Nicky Henderson for years and historically this is a time for him to start unleashing the big guns and he’s a nice winner on Friday in O O Seven.
Reigning champ Paul Nicholls has made his intention very clear this season and is stealing a March on Willie Mullins already while he waits on the big guns to appear. Another of winners this weekend would be very welcome as he looks to retain his crown.
Speaking of which ….
The feature race on Saturday is all about More of That as far as I’m concerned. I think he’s a very good horse and is rated 13lbs lower over fences than he was over hurdles. He’s a former World Hurdle winner who beat a Champion Hurdle winner (Annie Power) in the process and nothing in this boasts that form yet.
There are some doubts about the form of Jonjo O Neill’s stable and the fact that More of That reportedly bled when slightly disappointing in the RSA Chase last March.
But we are as guilty of damning horses after one bad run as we are of hyping them up after a good run so I’m prepared to take a chance on him because if the all the noises coming from connections are correct – we won’t be seeing him in a handicap again after Saturday.
For anyone who wants a little more value, Paul Nicholls’ Frodon gets all the allowances as a four-year-old and looks progressive and Buywise is a standing dish in these handicaps and can weave his way through the field to possibly grab a place at least at a fair price.
The meeting opens with the Grade 3 Handicap Chase at 1.50pm and if Minella Rocco ends Jonjo’s cold streak you can be sure More of That’s price will soon drop. He’s a decent horse that connections think a lot of and could be Aintree bound for the Grand National later in the season.
I just fancy David Pie’s Dr Harper who could be very well handicapped on his best form and gets a lot of weight off the winner of the National Hunt Chase at last season’s Festival. Dr Harper has disappointed a couple of times since but David Pipe had a winner here yesterday and I’ll give his runner one last chance to confirm his earlier promise.
The Handicap Hurdle at 3pm is a tricky contest but Philip Hobbs’ Fingal Bay could be worth an each-way interest. He’s back to his 2014 Pertemps Hurdle winning mark of 148 and runs very well first time out while the tv action closes with another handicap hurdle over 2m 5f at 3.35pm.
The Hobbs’ team saddle For Good Measure in this and he can gain some compensation for getting chinned by stablemate Golden Doyen over 3m at this track last month.
Other to watch in this race are Colin Tizzard’s Solatentif who makes his UK debut but has had some good runs in graded races in Ireland (chased home the ill-fated Long Dog at Limerick 12 months ago) and Harry Fry’s Meme’s Horse who was last seen winning at Newton Abbot in April.
Good luck and I’ll be rounding off the weekend with a Sunday preview on Saturday night.