Alan Thomson, the former Racing Editor at the Daily Record, picks 3 to follow at Sandown and Lingfield and 1 the Welsh National.
MAKTU (1.45) looks just the type to grind out victory in the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on Saturday. Pat Murphy has endured a few lean seasons but Maktu returns to the scene of some of his best career efforts. Indeed, he has recorded figures of 341431 from his last starts at the big, galloping track and has looked every inch an out-and-out stayer. Maktu ran a cracker on his seasonal reappearance at Haydock in early November when just losing out in a driving finish to King Fontaine and this has been his target for some time. He has a lovely racing weight near the foot of the handicap and Michael Murphy takes off another 3lb.
There is top-class action at Sandown and Donald McCain can strike a blow for the north in the 32Red Handicap Chase with FIENDISH FLAME (3.15). For a horse with limited experience over fences, he did well to lead the field for a long way at Cheltenham before failing to match strides with the hugely progressive Woolcombe Folly. Earlier at Bangor, Fiendish Flame had sauntered home from Calgary Bay and should acquit himself well at this higher level.
Paul Nicholls has a superb recent record in the Tolworth Hurdle, now run under the auspices of 32Red, having bagged the Grade 1 prize with the likes of Breedsbreeze, Silverburn and Noland. He relies on TOUBAB (2.40) from a fistful of potential entries. The ex-French grey didn’t look anything special last season but may have needed time to settle in, and he looked an entirely different kettle of fish at Haydock in November when strolling clear of Drill Sergeant. Minella Class is another for the shortlist. He stamped his authority over a big field of maidens at Newbury and Nicky Henderson has wasted no time elevating him in class.
The early bird could catch the worm at Lingfield, where Richard Fahey’s MIGHTY CLARETS (11.50) looks capable of completing his hat-trick under exciting 7lb claimer George Chaloner.