Weatherbys' weekend racing preview
Paul Jones of Weatherbys previews this weekend's televised races. Read his thoughts below:
Salden Licht will run here with a view to running in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle or the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in just over two weeks' time. Today is the final day for horses to get in a third run to qualify for any handicap at the Festival hence why he was keen to run him but the impression formed from his comments earlier in the week is that he genuinely feels he can develop into a live 'Supreme' hope so, if that is the case, he will have to be winning here.
Impressive on his hurdling debut at Newbury, he wasn't so impressive when scrambling home next time at Plumpton but King feels the Newbury win was the real Salden Licht but the runner-up at Plumpton franked that form with a good second in a warm novice hurdle at Huntingdon yesterday and may even have won had he not got the last flight all wrong.
Grey Soldier is an interesting contender from Ireland having finished second to the high class Rite Of Passage and should provide the main threat though it is interesting that Nicky Henderson runs a hurdling debutant here in Ghimaar as this is a Grade 2 race and he has used this race in the past as the final prep for his main Supreme Novices' Hurdle candidate.
The Reveley family have always fared well with mares and maybe Diklers Oscar can develop into a decent type for them. Twice a bumper winner which takes some doing, it has taken a while for the penny to drop in novice hurdles with her but, two runs ago she ran into a good one in Bygones Of Brid over too long a trip (2m6f) before easily winning a maiden hurdle over course and distance (2m) last time out.
Rayshan has been most consistent in point-to-points but has been off the track for 300 days which is a big worry for a small yard and Best Prospect, who was successful on his last start and is going the right way, has also not run for a long time (185 days since his last Flat run) which is offputting on heavy ground that will find out any fitness worries. Calatagan is returning to hurdles off 122 (rated 134 over fences) so should be a player but he formerly was never a big fan of testing ground and has been well beaten off similar hurdling marks and is just not as good a hurdler as chaser.
Another big players has to be the hat-trick chasing top weight Open De L'Isle but, on this ground, I would take Diklers Oscar in receipt of 10lbs with winning, recent course-and-distance form on her side.
Paul Nicholls has been mulling over whether to send The Nightingale for the Jewson or the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival which suggests he fancies him to win this Grade 2 event.
A horse that had excuses for his final two runs over hurdles last season finishing distressed on both occasions, he impressed me on his chase debut over 2m2f, especially as he needs further, and there will be some disappointed faces at Ditcheat if he can not book himself into the Festival here.
If it is to be the Jewson, he wouldn't want to be winning this by very far though. Red Admiral is a good ground horse so this ground is far from ideal, Mount Oscar is an 11-year-old novice, Othermix's reputation since coming from France has been far higher than his achievements and Henderson would have at least half a dozen superior novices at home to Viking Rebel so this really should go to the favourite.
The late news is that Miss Mitch is out lame. Nacarat looks the one to beat as he runs the track so well which is big feature of previous winners of this race, as is the record of the classier horses with just one of the last ten not carrying 11st+ and Tom George feels his run in the King George, where he was fourth but shaped like the second best horse for the most part, has brought him on which I can believe given he is a big stuffy horse.
With McCoy back in the plate like when they routed the field by nine lengths in this race last season, I feel an 11lbs rise may not stop him. Having been beaten so many times off lower marks, Fistral Beach does not rate great value from a higher mark and 4lbs wrong at the weights.
It could be that I have underestimated his rate of improvement and I have heard the yard really fancy him as he has never been better but others appeal more. They include Kilcrea Castle who ran so well in a good Ascot handicap last time out and the winner has franked that form but he has not been missed having been well backed over the last week. I think that he is the biggest danger to Nacarat.
I see they have gone with first-time blinkers for Madison Du Berlais which rather confirms my view he is becoming increasingly quirky and that could make the difference as he is another that loves the track. All in all, I think that Nacarat is the best percentage call.
The Eider Chase will be run over 4m1f on heavy ground so we want low weights, right? What may surprise you however for a marathon chase is how well the classier horses have fared recently, so much so, the last seven winners all carried over 11st.
Merigo has 11st 2lbs and deserves to be favourite off just a 5lbs higher mark than winning last year (and a 1lb higher weight) when the first two pulled 37 lengths of the rest on equally heavy ground. The runner-up last year, Morgan Be, takes him on again on 3lbs better terms for half a length so there is nothing in it really and he looked all over the winner 12 months ago until caught close home.
You can bet your life that both horses have just been trained with this race in mind even though Morgan Be's two runs this season have not exactly screamed out he is in top form but I suspect they were just preps for this handicap. Merigo, on the other hand, showed his wellbeing last time out finishing second at Warwick (disqualified and placed last) so he would be my pick of the two.
Of the remainder, there has been good money this week for Nick Williams' Dom D'Orgeval purely off the back of his trainer's reputation in these races and I can see why having his first run for his new stable having lost his way with David Pipe. Boris The Blade should enjoy this kind of race as all he does is stay. He has just sneaked in at 10st 1lb which goes against race trends but he doesn't give up easily and should give his supporters a run for their money.
This is a good opportunity to check out Mille Chief' Triumph Hurdle aspirations, a race for which he currently is the ante-post favourite. He certainly took to the course well in December beating Westlin' Winds despite not being fit (though he was receiving weight) but was much better time at Huntingdon with that run under his belt. I felt it was significant that on Monday King stated: "He is as good as my other Triumph Hurdle winners, if not better".
If he is better than Katchit who won the Triumph Hurdle by nine lengths then he is going to win this race and the Triumph Hurdle but, of course, he now has to back up his trainer's very high opinion of him. Soldatino is the interesting one as he is unraced over hurdles but Henderson often runs his best juvenile in this trial. Obviously it's a big guessing game with him so Ultimate is the form horse to worry about.
In fact, Ultimate is the form horse full stop as he ran Carlito Brigante to six lengths last time out so his running should give a good indication of where Mille Chief stands with Carlito Brigante as far as Cheltenham is concerned.