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ANOTHER weekend of outstanding national hunt action with the two highlights coming at Sandown Park (Tingle Creek Chase) and Sunday’s John Durkan Chase at Punchestown.
The first-named looks at the mercy of DEFI DU SEUIL who confirmed his arrival on the two-mile championship stage with a smooth and strong running success at Cheltenham in the Shloer Chase and I fancy that Politologue could well be his nearest rival again.
The Paul Nicholls’ charge is never at his best going left-handed and this return to Sandown could see him make it a tough ride for the selection. Add in the old boy Un De Sceaux alongside the very smart Sceau Royal and we could have a brilliant 2019 renewal to remember.
The JD Chase at Punchestown tomorrow at 1.50 looks to have a lot more strength in depth than in previous years with Min the likely number one for Willie Mullins who, along with his arch-rival Gordon Elliot, dominates the landscape for this valuable and famous event.
The value though against Min could well be REAL STEEL who gave away plenty of weight to land a top-class handicap here last season and kicked off this term with an emphatic success in the Daily Mirror Chase at Down Royal when he jumped for fun and ran his rivals into the ground. There is a load more left in the improvement locker from this youngster and he can land his first grade one over fences for the Closutton handler.
Back at Sandown Park I shall be having a hefty each-way wager on ESPRIT DU LARGE (nap) in the Henry VIII Novices Chase at 1.50. The Welsh raider won with a deal in hand from the smart Coolanly at Exeter over two-and-a-half miles, but should have no problem coming back to the minimum distance over this stiffer finish.
The two-mile listed handicap hurdle at 2.25 may well go the way of SMARTY WILD who continued his winning run with an emphatic success at Exeter from Manvers House last month.
The famous Grand National fences will be seen for the first time this season at Aintree with the three-and-a-quarter mile Becher Chase at 1.30. With more rain forecast in the Liverpool area I fancy that WALK IN THE MILL (nb) may successfully defend the title he won in such scintillating fashion 12 months ago.
The recent rain will certainly be in his favour and I expect him to come out on top again off a 4lbs higher mark at the main expense of Alpha Des Obeaux and Vintage Clouds.
The other race over the big fences is the Grand Sefton over the shorter trip of two miles and five furlongs at 3.15.
Its Jennifer and Killaro Boy look sure to run their races in what is usually a real cavalry charge down the first set of fences, but the each-way call could well be KAYF ADVENTURE.
The eight-year-old gelding had a lovely warm-up for this prize when a solid third of eight runners behind Graceful Legend at Bangor and a fast-run test over this trip looks made to measure for the selection.
Other races at the Liverpool track worth noting are the opening novice hurdle at 11.30 in which CHANCE A TUNE has solid claims for the Twiston-Davies clan, while I have a strong fancy for BLACK CORTON to turn over Native River in a disappointing turnout for the Many Clouds Chase due off at 2.40.
My only other wager of the day under the lights at Wolverhampton where I know that connections expect a really big run from MAYSTAR in the 6.20, a juvenile conditions event over an extended six furlongs.
The Archie Watson runner has a fair sit in box No 7 and this is a drop in grade following a disappointing effort in Listed company in France when he was a beaten favourite.
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