Former Talksport man Charlie McCann marks your card with six to follow on Saturday at Chepstow, Kempton and Punchestown. View selections below
The Chepstow executive are optimistic of beating the elements this afternoon although the ground is likely to be on the waterlogged side of heavy for the rearranged Welsh National meeting.
In the Handicap Hurdle over 3m Mark Pitman saddles Captainofindustry (1.10) off the minimum weight of 10st and he could be the answer despite being 1lb out of the weights. The 7-y-old was beaten a head at Ffos Las over 2m 4f last time and should appreciate the step back up in trip. The selection will make a lovely chaser in time but this is a valuable pot and Mark’s mother Jenny will always be synonymous with Grand National Days having saddled the winner of the Welsh National three times in the 1980s and the Aintree National twice (Corbiere 1983 & Royal Athlete 1995).
Twenty go to post for the National and my two against the field are Tour Des Champs (10/1 at BetVictor) and Portrait King (1.45) who is the 33/1 rag of the field but gets the each way vote. The selection seemed to lose his confidence at Aintree last time when making a mistake at halfway but still hadn’t been asked a serious question when coming down two out in the Becher Chase last month.
I feel he would have finished no worse than runner up on that occasion and, if his confidence has been restored over these traditional fences, he could be a shade overpriced running off the same handicap mark. The grey is a previous winner of the Eider Chase at Newcastle over 4m and has a lovely racing weight of 10st 6lbs; 33/1 looks just a shade too big.
Racing Pulse and Subtle Grey are respected in the 3m Novices’ Handicap Chase but Jennys Surprise (2.55) ran an excellent race in a decent Beginners’ Chase at Lingfield before Xmas and is taken to go one better for Fergal O’Brien with Conor Shoemark taking off a valuable 3lbs.
At Kempton there will be a fierce battle for the lead in the Handicap Chase over 2m 2f with Balgarry, Galway Jack and dual course winner Comeonginger (12.50) in opposition and the latter, who returned to form at Cheltenham last time, gets the vote in a race where his sound jumping will be a big asset.
If Chepstow gets the green light only ten will go to post for the Lanzarote Hurdle with David Pipe’s Gevrey Chambertin doubly engaged. Richard Johnson has, rightly, earned many plaudits for his riding this term but it was not his finest hour when he allowed former Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby to dictate from the front at Ascot last time and he was, unsurprisingly, outpaced in a race that developed into a sprint from two out.
He faces a tough ask under the steadier of 11st 12lbs, however, and preference is for Nicky Henderson’s Bivouac (2.35) with Noel Fehily in the plate. The selection has been raised 7lbs since winning at Huntingdon back in November and should appreciate the slight step up in trip.
The obvious danger is the lightly-raced Paul Nicholls’ trained Ibis Du Rheu, a half-brother to Saphir Du Rheu, who receives 6lbs from the selection and is open to plenty of improvement. It is worth noting that, after a quiet spell, at the time of writing Nicholls has had two winners from his last three runners and the suggestion is the yard are back to their very best.
Supreme Novice Hurdle favourite Min (currently 9/4 at BetVictor for the Festival curtain-raiser) has his second start over timber at Punchestown for Willie Mullins and cannot be opposed. I’m more interested in Diamond King (3.50) from a betting angle stepping up to 2m 4f for the first time since joining Gordon Elliot. Leading conditional Jack Kennedy takes off a valuable 5lbs and connections have always thought the world of the 8-y-old formerly trained by Donald McCain.