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THE weather will quite obviously play a major role in proceedings this weekend, with Haydock Park expecting snow and most other venues light rain/sleet.
I thought the big meeting to concentrate on was at Ascot where ALTIOR is a given to land the feature Clarence House Chase at 3.35 with only two rivals to worry about.
He is worth watching from a purist’s point of view, but the value wager on the rest of the card has to be the two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle at 2.25.
I am worried about the keenness of the novice Seddon in the early exchanges here, although I also feel 137 could be very much at the bottom end of his talent spectrum.
But he is up against some really hardened and seasoned campaigners here and the value surely lies with the tough BOITE.
He has been running against the best staying hurdlers in the country so far this season and has been far from disgraced, but arguably ran his best race back at two miles in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
Boite eventually finished 20 lengths last in fifth spot, predictably outpaced behind Verdana Blue and Buveur D’Air, but was far from disgraced in the circumstances.
This trip with guaranteed give in the ground is much more his cup of tea and with his handicap mark having slipped from 148 down to 140 he looks a massive player at an each-way price of around 20/1.
The other big betting race of the day is the Bet365 Handicap Chase over two miles and three furlongs at 3.00 with the weights headed by the progressive Mister Whitaker. This run will decide where Mick Channon’s charge runs at the festival either in the Ryanair or may be an outside shot at the Gold Cup or the big three-mile handicap chase on day one.
All of his runs suggest that he needs a bit further nowadays after plugging on at just the one pace into fourth spot over two-and-a-half miles in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
He has been given a nice break since then to freshen up and despite his welter weight burden, he looks the biggest danger to my pick, FLYING ANGEL each-way at 20/1.
He has a nice pull in the weight with Mr Medic on their run in November and two defeats since then can be put down to the extra yardage. Freshened up by short break, his handicap mark has fallen from a high of 152 to 145 and this is his ideal track and distance.
A last note on this race, the Venetia Williams-trained Bellami des Pictons is obviously the joker in the pack returning to action following a 400-day break, but as we all know the big V is very capable of getting them ready following a long lay-off and the combination of his back form and being unexposed means he is a possible big player especially if the market speaks in his favour.
On the rest of the card, DOWNTOWN GETAWAY (nb) is ‘expected’ in the finale, a NH novices hurdle at 4.05, while in the amateur riders handicap chase at 1.15 I like the look of BLUE FLIGHT with Zac Baker on board.
If Haydock does get the go ahead then WESTERN RYDER (nap) may prove too strong for Global Citizen in the New One Champion Hurdle Trial at 2.40 and the Peter Marsh Chase looks a suitable opening for THREE MUSKETEERS.
Dan Skelton’s charge won the Grade Two Leamington Novices Hurdle at Warwick and looked set to make an even better chaser when finishing 4th of 9 in the JLT at the festival and beating Kilcrea Vale at Market Rasen, but his form has dipped since then and his mark accordingly by 10lbs to 142.
A flat track certainly seems to be his domain and off his featherweight this could be his time with question marks over the majority of his 11 rivals and 20/1 looks too big an offer to pass up.
UCELLO CONTI – 3.50 THURLES (NAP)
samstown – 2.30 ayr
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