The big betting race of the weekend is the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday and Hughie Morrison – trainer of antepost favourite Not So Sleepy – reported that the progressive gelding’s participation in the valuable handicap would depend on the hurdler working well at Henrietta Knight’s this morning. The eight-year-old – 7/1 with BetVictor for Newbury – has the alternative of going straight to the Champion Hurdle next month for which he is a 25/1 shot at BetVictor.
The ground was given as good to soft at Market Rasen at noon on Monday ahead of today’s card which sees Monbeg Zena make her first start for Grade 1 winning trainer Olly Murphy whose Itchy Feet won Sandown’s feature Scilly Isles Chase at the weekend. The mare is unbeaten in two starts but she faces a tough opponent in the shape of The Mighty Don (1.40) who came down eight out in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
This represents a drop in grade for Nick Gifford’s eight-year-old and a clear round should see him break his maiden tag over the larger obstacles although he could not be described as a natural over fences.
I will be keeping a close eye on the market with regard to Smuggler’s Blues who jumped out to the right when disappointing at Ffos Las on his reappearance back in October. Today’s better ground should suit but the same sentiment applies to Cougar’s Gold (2.45) representing the yard of Peter Bowen.
The Bowen stable have had a disappointing winter, but they have had a couple of inmates run well in recent days and the selection is back down to his last winning mark. This 3m trip is at the upper end of his stamina range but he has won at this distance in the past and the drying ground is a plus.
Only four go to post in the Novices hurdle over two-and-a-half-miles and I’m going to give McFabulous (3.15) another chance for the inform Paul Nicholls. The selection won the Grade 2 Aintree Bumper last spring but has been disappointing in both starts over hurdles. It is still early days, however, and he looks sure to have been well schooled since being beaten 15L when last of four at Ascot last time – albeit in a much better race than todays.
The form of Lady Master’s (3.45) third at Leicester last time was given a boost when the winner – Wenceslaus – scored at Plumpton last week and this step back up in trip should suit the selection who is open to further improvement. Trainer Caroline Bailey was unlucky at the weekend when her progressive chaser Boldmere fell at the last when 3L up at Wetherby in their Grade 2 Novice Chase.
Connections of Ballyhome revert to hurdles having disappointed in two starts over the larger obstacles. Fergal O’Brien’s nine-year-old has won over three miles but I feel today’s 2m 4f trip is ideal and he must go close back over timber.
The vote, however, goes to Sermando (4.20) who has only been raised 4lbs for scoring at Huntingdon last time. When you consider that Jonjo O’Neill can claim 3lbs in today’s conditional jockey’s event and couldn’t claim last time, I would suggest that Sermando is virtually – save 1lb – a winner without a penalty this afternoon.
This has been a desperate season for Robin Dickin but there is no question that his Vocaliser (3.00) is very well treated on his best form and the stable did have a couple of runners run well in defeat last week. The selection has had a wind operation since down the field last time, but Tabitha Worsley takes off a valuable 5lbs and if the breathing procedure has a positive effect, then I think he can reward each way support.
The 6-y-old top-weight Ouro Branco looks the one to beat given the handicapper could have let him in lightly with just a 6lbs rise for last month’s Catterick win on his chase debut.
At Kempton Starfighter (7.30) can go one better than when runner up at Lingfield over 10f last time and today’s additional furlong should suit Ed Walker’s four-year-old who is fitted with cheek-pieces for the first-time this afternoon.