The booking of crack Irish amateur jockey Derek O’Connor for Ok Corral at Warwick in their listed Chase suggested the JP McManus owned novice chaser was going to target the 4m NH Chase at the Festival in March. That still appears to be the case after his fluent win from Secret Investor and he was cut from 7/1 to 3/1 with BetVictor in the aftermath of the race although if something happened to Nicky Henderson’s Santini I wonder if there would be a change of heart.
Top Notch beat a below par Charbel – not convinced he was given a great ride by Nico de Boinville – at Kempton and was cut to 10/1 for the Ryanair Chase with BetVictor from 20/1. Top Notch has finished 2nd, 5th and 2nd at the Festival in the JLT, Champion Hurdle and Triumph respectively and looks sure to run his race again in March.
The ground is described as good to soft (good in places) ahead of today’s Fontwell card where Not Never (1.20) steps up in trip to 2m 4f for the first time but can give weight away to his 11 rivals in a competitive opener.
The selection was a decent stayer on the level for Hugo Palmer and this better ground will certainly suit more than the soft ground he encountered when beaten the best part of 20l in a valuable Ascot handicap on his reappearance. Connections had the beaten favourite Kloud Gate in the Lanzarote on Saturday. Kloud Gate finished lame after clouting the first hurdle and in the circumstances ran a cracking race to finish sixth. I hope compensation awaits.
Day Of Roses (2.25) ran out with a circuit to go here on ground softer than ideal when returning from a lengthy absence last month. This duel C&D winner was a horse who I felt had more improvement in him when scoring back in the summer of 2017. Jeremy Scott has his string in good form and Nick Schofield – who was in the plate for both C&D successes – is back in the plate this afternoon.
Warwick Bumper winner Umndeni (2.55) steps up in trip to 2m 4f for the first time having shaped with promise in both starts over the minimum trip. This represents a drop in grade for Philip Hobbs’ hurdler although he does need to brush up his hurdling.
Clondaw Westie may need softer ground, but I feel he and Native Robin have every chance in the 2m 4f Handicap Chase. Ben Pauling lost his stable star and the yard’s first Cheltenham Festival winner Willoughby Court last week following surgery and I hope he receives a tonic courtesy of Stage Summit (3.25) who has had a wind operation since finishing fifth back in November.
At Wolverhampton there is a fast-track qualifier for the 2m event on all-weather championships at Lingfield on April 19th. I am a big admirer of Festival Of Ages but I have also been impressed by the performances of Aircraft Carrier (6.15) this winter and the selection gets a narrow vote in receipt of 5lbs from the Charlie Appleby five-year-old.
At Ffos Las the form of David Pipe’s Nordic Command’s (2.05) second to Rathhill at Newbury last time was given a knock when the winner ran poorly in the Tolworth Hurdle earlier in the month. That said he has now run three good races over timber although he would not want the ground to dry out too much given all his best form on the level was with plenty of cut.
Note Nordic Commander finished in front of Umndeni and a good run from the Pipe inmate would be a boost to the chances of the latter who runs 50 minutes later.
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