Timeform’s best bets at Taunton:
This maiden hurdle has been won by the likes of My Drogo and Jonbon over the last two years and Nicky Henderson especially has a good record in it, so his JET POWERED looks the obvious place to start. He was a 350,000 guineas purchase after winning his sole start in Irish points and is very much bred for the job, so it will be interesting to see how he fares in the market (he has had a breathing operation). Ittack Blue also cost plenty after winning his sole starts between the flags and is a likely danger.
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This looks a good race which is sure to throw up winners in the coming weeks and months. It is the Dan Skelton-trained FRERE D’ARMES who makes the most appeal despite being 2 lb out of the weights. He surpassed his hurdles form when making a faultless winning debut in this sphere at Kempton recently, his accurate jumping one of the most impressive aspects of that success, and a subsequent 8 lb rise in the weights may well underestimate him. Aucunrisque may prove next best ahead of chase-newcomer Soaring Glory.
RUSSIAN RULER justified favouritism with a smooth success in a bumper at Warwick on his debut and produced a promising first start over hurdles when finishing third at Doncaster in January. He didn’t look the finished article on that occasion and must be held in some regard as he was asked to contest the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton on his next start. He showed more than enough to suggest he is up to winning a race of this nature that day and he sets a good standard on form up in trip on his return having also undergone a breathing operation. Heezer Geezer and Egbert head the list of dangers in what should prove an informative contest.
STAGE STAR won the Challow Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago and he looked a top prospect when making a winning start over fences at Warwick earlier this month. He looked a total natural that day, settling better than was often the case over hurdles while his accuracy at his fences was also impressive. This race was mentioned in the immediate aftermath and he will be incredibly hard to beat on these terms. Beauport also made a good impression on chase debut and looks the next best prospect, though he may struggle to give Stage Star 5 lb.
An interesting handicap despite the small field with the vote narrowly in favour of PAINT THE DREAM. Impressive when landing the Greatwood Gold Cup over course and distance last season, he’ll find this test much less demanding than his latest assignment in the Charlie Hall (where he was far from disgraced) with the drop back in trip another plus. The form of Beakstown’s fourth in the Old Roan has been boosted since and he, along with the likeable Numitor head up the dangers.
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CHAMP is rising 11 years old, but he is still classy on his day, and could be the way to go, as he wasn’t on his game on his final outing last season and he usually goes well when fresh. Proschema looked better than ever when scoring at Wetherby on return and hasn’t had much racing over three miles, so he’s a big danger, particularly as this has the potential to place more emphasis on speed than stamina.
PADLEYOUROWNCANOE was the subject of significant market support on his return at Cheltenham just under a fortnight ago but Dan Skelton’s charge failed to complete, still looking threatening when departing, so it will be interesting to see if his supporters return today as he remains on a potentially lenient mark. He gets the verdict ahead of Shearer, who saw luck desert him at the same flight last time, though Paul Nicholls saddles three, and Barbados Buck’s is certainly not one to write off just yet returning after a wind operation.
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