Entries for the opening leg of the spring double were released with Roger Varian’s Morando the 5/1 favourite with BetVictor at the five-day stage, bidding to reverse the form with Roger Charlton’s Champions Day winner Yuften. The latter is 7/1 from 8s after an excellent third on his seasonal reappearance but must concede a pound to the Varian inmate, having been on level weights in the Balmoral Handicap at Ascot.
Neither Charlton nor Varian are represented on the all-weather at Wolverhampton however, Newmarket trainers are still out in force with William Sayle (2.50) expected to go close in the 9f Maiden under Andrea Atzeni. The well-bred colt made an eye-catching debut last month at Kempton when not knocked about and with further improvement likely must go close in a poor looking renewal.
The pair can complete doubles with Utopian Dream (4.50) in the maiden over a mile and a half. The daughter of High Chaparral has finished fourth in a pair of Lingfield maidens over a mile and a quarter but is bred to appreciate this afternoon’s step up in trip and has the benefit of experience to better Andrew Balding’s exciting Frankel colt Count Octave. The latter ran an excellent debut when third last season at Goodwood but isn’t sure to stay this afternoon’s trip and is likely to struggle if once again failing to settle.
National Hunt action comes from both Hexham and Southwell, with The Wexfordian (2.10) well-placed to shed the maiden tag at the belated 13th time of asking at the latter. Martin Keighley’s 8yo is rated 4lb lower over fences than he is hurdles and, after an excellent second over course and distance last time out, is chanced to take advantage of his chase mark under regular partner Andrew Tinkler.
Richard Johnson is an eye-catching jockey booking for Alan Swinbank’s Fly Home Harry (2.40) who can put aside his disappointing effort last time out at Leicester and bounce back at a track where he has an excellent record. The selection is unbeaten in two starts at the track, winning competitive 3m Handicap Chases under Paul Moloney earlier in the campaign, and can complete the hat-trick under the Champion Jockey.
Brian Hughes may be unable to reach Richard Johnson’s haul of 170 winners but remain peerless in the north and should better his tally of 134 for the season up at Hexham. Hughes partners Storm Forecast (2.00) in the opening 2m Novices’ Hurdle who is fancied to go one better than his runner-up effort in the corresponding race 12 months ago. The winner, Kid Valentine, is now rated in the high 120s and sets a fair standard that is unlikely to be bettered.
The pair must go close with Rydedale Dancer (3.30) in the Handicap Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles. The selection remains relatively unexposed at this level and impressed when bolting-up in similar conditions over course and distance earlier in the campaign. He boasts form figures of 21231 and can give weight and a beating to his nine rivals under the excellent Hughes.