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The penalised John Kirkup remains well handicapped despite picking up a 2lbs penalty for his narrow win at Ayr last month. However, all of his best form has come with some dig in the turf and that sways me in favour of READY FREDDIE GO.
With only 11 runs under his belt, the selection is relatively unexposed compared to his rivals and is a course and distance winner as well on fast ground four outings back. Since then, the son of Swiss Spirit has been far from disgraced in better races and last time out was not suited to the give in the ground at Catterick.
Back racing under his optimum conditions and down to that last handicap mark of 80 – courtesy of Harry Russell’s 3lbs claim – I suspect that he will be able to see off the top weight, along with the consistent but infuriating Shalaa Asker.
The feature handicap of the day over an extended 7 furlongs will take plenty of winning and as per normal, several of the entries ran earlier in the week at the festival. Quizical ran really well on slightly softer ground in the BMW last week and arguably would have won, had he not had to circumnavigate the field and give up first run to the winner Sirjack Thomas.
The six-year-old is far better drawn in stall 10 this time around and has a big pull in the weights with his conqueror, so has obvious claims but has been found in the market place. I believe that the seventh-placed Current Option (winner of this race in 2020) will run well from the one box, while the fitting of a visor for the first time will help the talented Nebo. However, the selection has to be the five-year-old BIG BABY BULL.
He went off a short as 12/1 for this race 12 months ago, but his chance had all but gone when he fell out of the stalls. Making up ground on the outer from half-way, that effort took its toll up the final climb and he was eased considerably to finish plum last.
Now significantly lower in the weights and perfectly drawn in stall two, he looks by far the best each-way value at double figure odds.
This looks a very tightly knit and competitive extended mile-and-a-half handicap, with the obvious improver being the William Haggas-trained Rival. The Highclere charge was impressive when landing a handicap here off 78 in May over 10-and-a-half furlongs, despite being pretty keen through the first half mile.
Upped to a mark of 84, the son of Iffraaj could not move forward on his next start over the same course and distance. But, there were mitigating circumstances that day as he missed the break completely, whereas on his previous start he was let loose in the lead. If he has learnt from that experience and Oisin lets him stride on, he looks the biggest danger to GABRIAL THE ONE.
Richard Fahey’s runner failed to get home over a mile-and-three-quarters last time out. He is better off at the weights with Heart of Soul, who beat him by a length-and-a-quarter the last time he raced over the course and distance, and should gain his revenge.
His form figures over this course and distance read 1455212 and any further showers in the region would also certainly aid his cause.
This first division of the extended two-and-a-quarter mile handicap hurdle has more quantity than quality, although that is probably what you would expect at this Class Five level when the entry is split into two races.
That means that the most talented horse in the race, the top weight, Chess Player has to come into the equation having been placed off 94 last time out on his sixth hurdle start. There could be more to come, but the handicapper has kept him on a mark of 96 and there are better value plays elsewhere.
Both Danger Money and So Be It came under serious consideration. However, UNO MAS got the vote in the end. The Christian Williams-trained gelding is seven from 33 in his hurdle career, and therefore offers up a solid level of known ability at this level.
A winner of a class three hurdle at Cheltenham off 108 in his prime, he has obviously lost a bit of zip since then, but showed that this level of competition should be well within his compass when keeping on nicely over two-and-a-half miles at Worcester last time out. Off a 1lb higher mark, the selection has solid claims in a race which won’t take much winning.
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