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A BIG day of racing for National Hunt fans with the Ladbrokes Trophy Handicap Chase (old Hennessy, Newbury 3.00) and the Fighting Fifth Hurdle (Newcastle, 2.05), the feature races of the weekend.
The former is by far the bigger betting race of the afternoon and with a dry day and a half we are not going to get the deep ground which the runners had to get through last year.
That should certainly help last year’s third, Dingo Dollar, who jumped like an absolute buck last year, but simply didn’t get home in the conditions. The more that the ground dries out the better his chance will be, although it is worth noting that this year’s renewal is a much better race than last year’s.
Conversely, the drying ground is not in the favour of the Welsh National winner and top-weight Elegant Escape and the horse he beat into third that day, Yala Enki along with mudlarks Daklondike and Mister Malarkey.
Winner of the 2018 Scottish National off 135, Joe Farrell is surely a player at huge odds having since run well here twice, but bombed out in the Grand National.
However, I was really taken by his comeback run at Chepstow when he looked in need of the outing when he blew up close home and finished a close-up third behind Vieux Lion Rouge and the veteran On Tour. Genuinely good-to-soft ground could see him hit the frame at huge odds on this latter track which suits him better.
However, if there is one horse in this field with pretensions for graded glory then it simply has to be OK CORRAL (nap) trained by Nicky Henderson.
Having hosed up in his first two races last year at Plumpton and then a Listed contest at Warwick (easily brushed aside the smart Secret Investor), he then endured a horrible passage in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival with several fallers literally coming down right in his path.
Thereafter he lost his confidence, making several mistakes himself and was pulled up by Derek O’Connor between the third and second last when all chance of victory had long gone.
Reportedly on fire on the home gallops, he could be very well handicapped off a mark of 151 and may be able to progress at a quicker rate of knots than both the Galway Plate winner Borice and the seven-year-old De Rasher County.
The supporting card is an absolute cracker with RESERVE TANK set to take care of Danny Whizzbang and Ardlethen in the Grade Two John Francome Novices’ Chase at 12.40, but a better value bet could well come in the form of ROCKY’S TREASURE (nb) in the two and three quarter mile Sir Peter O’Sullevan Handicap Chase at 1.15.
Kim Bailey’s charge ran the ultra smart Santini to four lengths here in last year’s John Francome before landing the Grade Two December Novices’ Chase at Doncaster and a good second to Cobra de Mai at Cheltenham over three and a quarter miles. That kind of trip just seems to stretch him and I have long thought this could well be his optimum distance.
The handicapper has begun to relent as well, dropping him from 149 to 145 and if the ground continues to dry out he could easily outrun his double-figure odds with his first run of the season having blown away the cobwebs when he made a terrible mistake at the sixth and was pulled up.
This scenario will surely suit him so much better with the lightly raced and unexposed Westend Story probably the one he has to fear most of all under the champion jockey.
I think that LORD NAPIER is a huge player in the two-and-a-half mile handicap hurdle due off at 1.50, while have a second look at the mare EPATANTE in the 2.00 event.
She was too weak to do herself justice at the Cheltenham Festival, but has reportedly strengthened up during the summer months and been really pleasing trainer Nicky Henderson at home.
Finally, have a look at PUERTO BANUS in the 12.30 at Lingfield. Seven furlongs was simply too short for the selection last time out at Wolverhampton and I fancy a massive run here in what looks a wholly winnable race.
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