Former Talksport man Charlie McCann marks your card with seven to follow on Saturday at Sandown, Wetherby and Leopardstown. View selections below:
More rain forecast for Sandown and the ground is likely to be extremely testing for today’s meeting. The Grade 1 event on the card is the Scilly Isles Chase for Novices’ over 2m 4f.
Tea For Two won the G1 Feltham Chase at Kempton over 3m on Boxing Day, racing wide throughout and was, ultimately, a good winner although I’m not convinced it was a the strongest renewal of that particular contest. Note that win was a history making performance with jockey Lizzie Kelly becoming the first female to ride a G1 winner in Britain over jumps.
Bristol de Mai (2.25) gets a narrow vote for Nigel Twiston-Davies, however, having run away with a Haydock Grade 2 on heavy ground last month. As a 5-year-old he receives a valuable 3lbs from Tea For Two and that might be the difference although Maximiser is another novice I have a lot of time for. The selection is 6/4 at BetVictor and that looks fair enough although it is a good renewal despite the paucity of runners and lack of an Irish challenger.
Peace And Co (1.15) is in a different class to his three rivals in the Contenders Hurdle but he must settle better than he did at Cheltenham on his reappearance or he won’t get home in this ground. I have long thought last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner was the only realistic British contender in the Champion Hurdle, but he will have to win and win well if he is to give Faugheen something to worry about in the big one next month.
Le Reve won the 3m Chase on the card from a 5lbs lower mark last year and is fitted with blinkers for the first time this afternoon after a moderate effort at Doncaster last week. All five career wins have come right-handed, however, and he is not one to give up on just yet.
Marginal preference, however, is for Saroque (3.30) reunited with Aidan Coleman for the first time since the partnership scored at Exeter from a 7lbs lower mark back in November. He ran as well as ever when fourth in the Welsh National last time, despite clouting a few on the way round, and he must go close carrying just 10st 5lbs.
There are clear signs that the yard of Jonjo O’Neill are returning to form and at Wetherby Bronco Billy (2.10) can break his maiden over timber at the third attempt. The selection ran well at Carlisle on his reappearance back in December following a 13 month break and it is possible that his subsequent disappointing run at Leicester came too soon. The booking of Noel Fehily is an obvious plus.
The Grade 2 Towton Chase is a cracker; Bitofapuzzle (2.45) is also entered at Sandown but the mares’ first preference is for this Grade 2 contest and she gets a valuable 10lbs from the other main protagonists Native River and Blaklion.
The selection was in the process of running away with a mares’ only event at Thurles last time before unseating and I hope Fehily makes plenty of use of her. Blaklion is a big danger with regular pilot Ryan Hatch in the saddle but the mare looks overpriced at 9/2 with BetVictor in receipt of the weight.
A wonderful card at Leopardstown where the feature is the Irish Gold Cup where last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup third Road To Riches (3.40) puts his Festival credentials on the line. Gigginstown Stud have half of the ten runner field running in their colours but with no Don Cossack or Don Poli in the field one could argue the “A Team” are missing.
The brilliant Hunter Chaser On The Fringe who won at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals last year might be vulnerable first time out on soft ground and an each way alternative is You Must Know Me (4.15) who I felt Henry de Bromhead didn’t quite get to the bottom of and has rattled off three point-to-points for his new yard.