Cheltenham Festival 2018 antepost – February update – Championship races

CHAMPION HURDLE

Going into the Irish Champion Hurdle I was convinced we would have some kind of clarity regarding Faugheen. The former two mile hurdling king would either blow out again and be retired or hack up, as he did in the Morgiana on his comeback, and emerge as the only serious contender to Buveur D’air at Cheltenham. In the event we got neither. His second place to Supasundae only telling us one thing – he isn’t the ‘machine’ he once was anymore. And when you look back at the Morgiana, despite being so visually impressive, in retrospect the fact is that the race basically wasn’t a very good one. The yardstick to measure it by is Jezki, whom Faugheen beat by 16 lengths into second at Punchestown and comfortably again by just over nine lengths at Leopardstown.

There is a but however. Without doubt going into the Champion Hurdle Buveur D’air looks head and shoulders above his rivals and should defend his title with the minimum of fuss. He is a best price 1/2 to do so though and not a punting proposition. Instead, you can back Faugheen each way at 13/2, which for me would look to be a bet to nothing. There’s no Supasundae lining up this time, meaning his biggest opponents for a place are My Tent Or Yours and stablemates Melon and Wicklow Brave. Now he may not quite be as brilliant as he once was but you would be bitterly disappointed if he wasn’t good enough to beat two of the above. Plus, of course, there’s the chance the Mullins magic can eke out something special from the 10-year-old on the day or indeed that Buveur D’air could fall or just have an off day. This is horse racing after all and it’s rarely as straightforward as you think.

The joker in the pack is still Yorkhill. Previously advised at 20/1, despite having a pretty forgettable season so far, you just know that he could suddenly bounce back to form. He’s outrageously talented and if anyone is going to get him back it’s Mullins. With the growing possibility of the Closutton trainer having the twin attack of Douvan and Min for the Champion Chase, the Champion Hurdle would surely look like Yorkhill’s most obvious target now and I wouldn’t put you off taking the 12/1 each way NRNB that is available. If he does line up then, regardless of his past two runs, he will be shorter on the day.

Selections:

Faugheen 13/2ew NRNB (previously advised 8/1)

Yorkhill 12/1ew NRNB (previously advised 20/1)

STAYERS HURDLE

A horse with Festival form following his win in the Coral Cup last year, Supasundae has emerged as the leading contender for the Stayers Hurdle next month. His last two performances, in beating Faugheen in the Irish Champion and pushing Apples Jade to within half a length over Christmas, are the best form on offer in what looks to be a weak division.

I did previously advise three at double figure prices however and all remain solid each way hopes. In December I recommended taking chance at 20/1 that Yanworth might switch back to hurdles. Well, today Alan King has confirmed the son of Norse Dancer will indeed take that route. It is a development that will see him renew rivalry with Supasundae, who he beat by a length to win the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree last April. I do, however, think Supasundae is a better animal this season and could well reverse the placings. Yanworth will almost certainly be shorter than 7/1 on the day though so if you fancy him I’d advise you to get on now.

Put up at 18/1 at the start of the season, we still haven’t seen Penhill this term although the latest reports from Willie Mullins are positive that he will make to the race. Whether last season’s Albert Bartlett hero can win first time up though makes it a tough ask. Meanwhile, I’m delighted to see that Nigel Twiston-Davies has committed to this route with The New One after taking him out of the Champion Hurdle at the latest forfeits stage. Advised at 14/1, he’s enjoying his best season for years and is no back number.

Selections:

Supasundae 7/2

Penhill 10/1ew (previously advised at 18/1ew)

Yanworth 7/1ew (previously advised at 20/1ew)

The New One 12/1ew (previously advised at 14/1ew)

QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE

Altior‘s comeback run after a wind op at Newbury couldn’t have gone much better and Nicky Henderson’s star quite rightly goes into the Champion Chase as favourite to follow in former stablemate Sprinter Sacre’s footsteps in winning the two mile chasing crown after claiming the Arkle the year before. However, he will not have things all his own way with Willie Mullins seemingly planning a twin pink and green coloured attack in the form of Min and Douvan. It is a mouth-watering prospect and if Altior can put the Rich Ricci owned pair to the sword then he truly will deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as his old mate Sprinter.

After a disappointing display at Christmas, the real Min turned up at Leopardstown last month, putting in a scintillating performance to win that Grade 2 by 12 lengths. It still might not be good enough to beat Altior but I think Min is a better chaser than he was a hurdler and will definitely get closer that the seven lengths that separated the pair in the Supreme a couple of years ago. For those of you who took the 12/1 advised here, you’re still sitting on a nice each way price.

Then there’s Douvan, who is even more fascinating. After being ruled out for the season a couple of months ago, he apparently has made a miraculous recovery and the vibes coming from Closutton now are that the old Douvan could well be back. If you think that Mullins has stated before this is the best horse he’s ever trained, then if he is back to the sort of form that saw him unbeaten in 13 races prior to his injury hit run in this race last year this could be a contest that will be talked about for years to come. Available at 4/1 with the non runner no bet concession, he is another that would definitely be shorter on the day, especially if the pick of Ruby Walsh, which you would imagine he would be.

Selections:

Altior 8/11 (previously advised at 6/4)

Min 11/4 (previously advised at 12/1ew)

Douvan 4/1 NRNB

RYANAIR CHASE

Despite Mullins’ comments over recent days about running both Min and Douvan in the Champion Chase, Rich Ricci will no doubt prefer the pair to be split up and of the two I think it is Douvan who is the most likely to move up in trip. I actually advised the son of Walk in the Park at 10/1 for this race in my very first antepost piece of the season back in October and rather like the situation with him in the Champion Chase I’d recommend utilising the non runner no bet option and backing him at his current price for this race too.

Mullins obviously has last year’s hero Un De Sceaux here too, while Waiting Patiently is a very interesting contender following his ultra impressive win at Ascot on Saturday. Doubts about his suitability to better ground from connections mean he might not even turn up however and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at Aintree instead if it came up soft there. Even if he does go to Cheltenham I think Mullins still holds all the aces with a peak form Un De Sceaux and possibly Douvan.

Selection:

Douvan 4/1 NRNB (previously advised at 10/1)

GOLD CUP

I don’t think I’ve been more excited about an antepost bet than I am about the 66/1 I have, and which I advised in this blog, about Killultagh Vic. There is little doubt in my mind that had he not taken that crashing fall at the last, Willie Mullins’ charge would have won the Irish Gold Cup last month. If he is none the worse for that spill then he goes to Cheltenham right in the mix of ending Mullins’ quest for national hunt racing’s holy grail. Having won over three miles as a hurdler there are no doubts about the trip and he should have come on again fitness wise. His biggest danger is his jumping but if he gets round I have no doubt he has the class to be a major player at the finish.

I recently had an enjoyable debate with someone about the merits of Killultagh Vic up against his fancy, Might Bite. “Hasn’t got a chance in hell” was his verdict on my pick, whom, in his view, “doesn’t stay” and is “too inexperienced”. The beauty of this year’s Gold Cup is that it is wide open and rife for such discussion. For what it’s worth I have no doubts he will stay – he has a massive engine – and you could have argued that Sizing John or Coneygree were too inexperienced.

One thing we did agree on was that Native River is the most solid each way option in the race. Although he didn’t beat much, his seasonal return at Newbury the other week was very good and should leave him spot on for an assault on the blue riband event. Last year he arrived after a string of tough assignments that must have left their mark. This time he’s been campaigned with this target solely in mind and is the one horse you know for sure will run his race and be staying on well at the finish when others are toiling.

Selections:

Killultagh Vic 10/1ew (previously advised at 66/1)

Native River 7/1ew

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Saturday selections – Ascot, Haydock & Gowran Park

Selections:

1.25 Gowran – Up For Review 11/4

1.50 Ascot – Ms Parfois 2/1

2.25 Ascot – Another Venture 3/1

3.00 Ascot – Fixe Le Kap 7/1ew

3.10 Gowran – Arcenfete 28/1ew

3.35 Ascot – Waiting Patiently 9/4

4.25 Haydock – Chef des Obeaux 11/8 (NAP)

Cheltenham Festival 2018 antepost – February update – Novice Chases

ARKLE CHASE

Throughout these antepost pieces that I’ve been writing since October I’ve been flying the flag for Petit Mouchoir in the Arkle and despite his defeat to Footpad at Leopardstown a couple of weeks ago my confidence has not wavered. Advised at 14/1 at the start of the season, he finished five lengths adrift but wasn’t given a hard time by Davy Russell when it was obvious he wasn’t going to win and will come on bundles for a run that was his first since his chasing debut on 18 October. The 9/2 still on offer on last season’s Champion Hurdle third is virtually a bet to nothing as barring a fall he will definitely at least be placed. I’m certain he will be shorter on the day and would advise a punt now, especially as it could end up being a contest with less than eight runners (and therefore only two places for each-way terms).

As far as the British challenge goes, there’s been lots of chat about the chances of Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados shaking up the big two but despite being impressive in his three wins for the trainer so far there must be a serious doubt about his effectiveness on a sounder surface, while even though he won a Grade 2 last time out the horses he beat are a million miles away from the calibre of rival he will face at Cheltenham. He’s not for me.

Selection:

Petit Mouchoir 9/2ew (previously advised at 14/1)

JLT NOVICES CHASE

Just as my position on Getabird has gone full circle from my original antepost selections (click here to read my novice hurdle blog) the same it seems can now be said for Finian’s Oscar. Advised at 10/1 at the start of the campaign for this race Colin Tizzard has pretty much tried him over every distance since, including an unsuccessful foray back over hurdles last time out in the Cleeve. He’s still in the Stayers Hurdle entries following the latest defections but, following a wind op, the trainer is now seemingly reverting to the original plan of the JLT as his preferred target. In my opinion this is the right race for him too. Yes, he stays and will hopefully still turn into a Gold Cup horse in years to come, but he also isn’t short of pace, just not enough pace for two miles (as patently shown at Sandown). I think he was beaten by an underestimated rival when just edged out by Benatar the last time he ran at around two and a half miles over fences and looked good when beating Movewiththetimes at Cheltenham in November. Whether he will win at the Festival I’m not sure, but he will improve for the likely better ground and is undoubtedly a contender.

In my last update I advised Ballyandy for the race at 33/1, however following a shocking display last time out it has to be doubtful as to whether he will turn up, let alone be in with a chance. Instead now the best bet has to be the 10/1 available on Invitation Only, who ran a cracker in what could well be the strongest novice chase ran this season when a close third to Monalee in the Flogas at the Dublin Racing Festival. He was just outstayed by Henry De Bromhead’s charge and the JLT looks ideal for a horse who won twice impressively over 2m 4f before his Leopardstown test. It looks the obvious option and when confirmed he will go off much shorter than his price today, especially when you consider most of the others at the head of the current betting will go elsewhere – Footpad (Arkle) and Benatar, Al Boum Photo and Monalee (all RSA) to name just four.

Selections:

Finian’s Oscar 12/1ew NRNB (previously advised at 10/1)

Invitation Only 10/1ew

RSA CHASE

This be brewing up to be one of the races of the Festival. As just mentioned, that Flogas was the best staying chase for novices ran this season with my 16/1 antepost selection Monalee bouncing back from his fall at Christmas in fine style to beat Al Boum Photo, Invitation Only, Snow Falcon and Dounikos (of whom more to follow). Of course the big name missing from that party was current favourite Presenting Percy but I’m of the view that there was a major overreaction to his win over hurdles at Gowran last month, in which he had to be driven to get the better of Augusta Kate, while the only time he has met any decent rivals over fences he was beaten 12 lengths by Jury Duty and Shattered Love. So how he is 5/2 in some places I find staggering really. With Yanworth another likely rival at Cheltenham I honestly don’t think Presenting Percy will even be placed.

The real disappointment at Leopardstown was Sutton Place, who has to be an unlikely runner now, while one definitely ruled out is Paul Nicholls’ Give Me A Copper, who I advised at 25/1 at the start of the season.

Selection:

Monalee 4/1ew (previously advised at 16/1)

NATIONAL HUNT CHASE

I wouldn’t be surprised if three winners next month come out of that Flogas. The third of those could be Dounikos, who can be backed at 12/1 with the NRNB concession for the four-miler on the opening day of the Festival. Although not raced over further than 2m 5f this season, Gordon Elliott’s seven-year-old was finishing strongly at Leopardstown and would have got even closer to Monalee had Jack Kennedy not been forced to switch after the last when having his run blocked by Invitation Only. Twice a winner this season, he also showed he will relish a step up in trip when doing his best work at the finish to beat stablemate Monbeg Notorious by over three lengths at Gowran in November. That horse went on to win the Thyestes by 11 lengths, so the form is strong and I think he’s been underestimated. He could of course go the RSA route but with NRNB you lose nothing and he’s well worth a punt.

Selection:

Dounikos 12/1ew NRNB

Cheltenham Festival 2018 antepost – February update – Novice Hurdles

Less than four weeks to go now until the greatest show on turf and, while still many questions remained unanswered regarding many of the Festival’s marquee contests, since my last update the inaugural staging of the excellent Dublin Racing Festival did make the picture just a little clearer. So what did we learn? Well, that Supasundae looks a good thing for the Stayers Hurdle, Faugheen is no longer a machine, Samcro well and truly is, Yorkhill is as confusing as ever, Min is ready to put it up to Altior and that the RSA is going to be a cracker.

Unlike my previous Cheltenham antepost pieces, this time I’ve decided to break things down, starting with the novice hurdles…

SUPREME NOVICES HURDLE

Isn’t it funny how things can change? Back in October I tipped up Getabird at 25/1 for the Supreme, a selection that I had more or less given up on for most of the season since as it looked certain he would instead go the Ballymore or even Albert Bartlett route instead. Then, he romps home by nine lengths in the Moscow Flyer and suddenly it’s game on. Now, following previous Mullins/Ricci winners of that race Min, Vautour and Douvan, he is all set to start Cheltenham’s curtain-raiser as a strong favourite. A best price 9/4, he certainly looks the best of the Irish challengers, showing serious gears on his last outing to blow away Mengli Khan. I still haven’t given up on Real Steel however as I don’t think we’ve seen him to full effect since his impressive Irish debut win at Thurles in November. Advised at 20/1 and now available at 33s, he didn’t run his race for half of that crazy contest at Leopardstown over Christmas when he fell at the last and made the running, not having enough petrol for the finish, when fifth to Samcro in the Deloitte earlier this month. If he’s positioned just off the pace at Cheltenham he can certainly be in the mix for place money.

Of the British contenders Kalashnikov launched himself into contention with his dominant display in the Betfair Hurdle and is now as short as 6/1. With the prospect of him being even better on a sound surface at Prestbury Park, Amy Murphy’s charge is certainly a force to be reckoned with and unlike what some ‘experts’ have suggested, he does actually have a serious turn of foot and the speed for a Supreme. Watch back the way he scooted clear of Irish Prophecy at Doncaster on good to soft in December when Jack Quinlan gave him a slap after the last. If you fancy him for the Supreme however my advice would be to wait until the day as he most likely won’t be any shorter and there will be all manor of bookmaker offers to take advantage of.

Along with Getabird and Real Steel, another of my previous selections was Nicky Henderson’s Claimantakinforgan. Advised at 33/1 and subsequently going much shorter, after blotting his unbeaten hurdles record with defeat at Musselburgh he can now be backed at 16/1, which could prove to be generous. The ground went against him up in Scotland and he will certainly be seen to better effect next month on a sounder surface. Unlike Kalashnikov I would be surprised if the firms let him go off at 16s on the day so if you didn’t take the 33s before I think he’s the value angle right now.

Selections:

Getabird 9/4 (previously advised at 25/1)

Claimantakinforgan 16/1 (previously advised at 33/1)

Real Steel 33/1 (previously advised at 20/1)

BALLYMORE NOVICES HURDLE

Assuming this is where Samcro ends up it is very difficult to see anything getting near him. His demolition job of a Grade 1 field in the Deloitte dispelled any doubts that we are looking at something very special. For me he is the most exciting jumps horse since Sprinter Sacre’s first incarnation over fences and could prove just as untouchable over the coming seasons. Advised at 16/1 in my October antepost blog, he is now an odds on shot and nothing more than a leg for your accas from a punting perspective.

Samcro’s presence in the race could well see it cutting up and contenders taking their chance in the Supreme or Albert Bartlett instead, so if you can pinpoint something that is likely to go for the Ballymore then there is each way value to be had. Currently available at 33/1 is Vision Des Flos, who after a disappointing start for Colin Tizzard really started to show why connections paid €270,000 for him at Exeter last weekend, when romping to a 31-length success in a listed contest against some well regarded opponents. That was over two miles but the five-year-old was doing his best work at the finish and the Ballymore looks his likely destination, especially with the owners’ Ainchea looking booked for a run in the Supreme.

Selections:

Samcro 4/5 (previously advised at 16/1)

Vision Des Flos 33/1ew

ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES HURDLE

The three mile Albert Bartlett is by far the most open of all the three novice hurdles with no clear favourite. I’d be confident in saying the feature staying hurdle, won by Tower Bridge, at the recent Dublin Racing Festival won’t supply the winner at Cheltenham with the much better trial being the 2m 4f Grade 1 ran at Naas in January won by Next Destination, a race in which Cracking Smart was only a length behind. Both are likely to step up in trip next month and both are very strong contenders, with Next Destination the favoured of the two having already come out on top twice when they have met.

I previously advised three 25/1 shots however and see no reason to abandon them now. Sixth in that Naas race was Blow by Blow, a horse I have been a huge fan of since his win in the Punchestown Champion Bumper in 2016. We’ve had to be patient with him and his return over timber hasn’t always been plain sailing this season but it is no coincidence that the one time he has got his head in front was the one time he’s ran over close to three miles. The Albert Bartlett’s stamina test is made for him, while he may improve for better ground when you consider his lifetime best was on a sounder surface.

My second 25/1 poke was Ballyward, who progressed from defeat on his hurdling debut over Christmas with a battling victory at Naas over 2m 3f a month later. Despite just getting the better of As You Were by half a length that day (the pair of them 25 lengths clear of third) you got the impression the son of Flemensfirth was just idling when hitting the front, before being galvanised to get the job done. He clearly has a big engine and can only improve further when stepped up in trip.

Finally there’s White Moon, who worryingly we haven’t seen since his no-show in the Grade 2 won by On The Blind Side at Sandown in December. Reported as coming out of that contest lame, you can draw a line through it and concentrate on the impression the winning pointer made in his wins at Wincanton and Exeter. He had subsequent winners well beaten behind him on both occasions and with the Tizzard yard now returning to form I still retain high hopes that the dashing grey can be a serious contender for Cheltenham honours. He can be backed at 40/1 with Hills, which could turn out to be a massive price.

Selections:

White Moon 40/1ew (previously advised at 25/1)

Ballyward 25/1ew (previously advised at 25/1)

Blow by Blow 33/1ew (previously advised at 25/1)

MARES NOVICES HURDLE

A race won by Willie Mullins both times since it’s introduction into the Festival programme in 2016, the master of Closutton looks to have found the perfect candidate to follow in the footsteps of Limini and Let’s Dance in the shape of Laurina. I quite fancied Ray Hackett’s Crackerdancer going into the Grade 3 Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse last month, but came out of that contest in no doubt that in Laurina I’d not only seen the winner at Cheltenham but that I had also witnessed one of the bankers of the week. The way the daughter of Spanish Moon travelled through the race before easing away from her rivals on the bridle to win by 11 lengths was hugely impressive. It is form that has since been boosted by the second that day, Alletrix, winning by over seven lengths at Leopardstown’s extravaganza the other week. She’s short, at 5/4 for Festival success, but alongside Samcro and Apples Jade rates a must for all those Cheltenham accas.

Selection:

Laurina 5/4

Sunday selections – Punchestown & Exeter

Paul Nicholls held all the aces in last year’s Foxhunters with a one-two and the 2017 second, Wonderful Charm, will once again be a leading contender at Cheltenham next month. Leading the Irish challenge however could be Burning Ambition, who has been prolific in the Irish pointing scene and transferred that form under rules at Limerick over Christmas, winning by 13 lengths without coming off the bridle. Trained by Pierce Power, unlike many of the leading contenders for the Foxhunters who are in their twilight years, his son of Scorpion is very much at the other end of his career. Just seven, he could easily graduate into being a decent handicapper next year if that’s the route connections want to take, but before then has a fantastic chance of giving some old favourites plenty to worry about, starting with Gilgamboa at Punchestown on Sunday.

The highlight of the Punchestown card is the Grand National trial at 4.20 and it’s a very tricky puzzle to unravel. At 18/1 my fancy for the 3m 4f marathon is the ultra consistent White Arm. Prior to finishing fifth at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day Tony Martin’s charge was placed in six of his previous seven races, including victory at this track in December when he had Gordon Elliott’s Bilko behind him. That win was also on heavy ground, meaning Sunday’s conditions won’t be a concern, while the trip will also suit as he showed when second in a competitive handicap over two furlongs further than this at last April’s Punchestown Festival. He has a good racing weight off 10st 2lbs and is the choice of Mark Walsh, who you would have imagined could have ridden 14/1 shot Spider Web.

Over at Exeter the first race in the 2018 edition of the hugely successful veterans chase series takes place. Charlie Longsdon’s evergreen Pete The Feat is bound to be popular with punters but at a bigger price I like the chances of Fletchers Flyer. Harry Fry’s ten-year-old has struggled since winning a valuable handicap at the 2016 Punchestown Festival but is now down to a mark of 137, one pound lower that the rating he won off that day. He also has form on heavy ground, which will be an essential attribute on what promises to be very attritional underfoot conditions. Kieron Edgar takes off a handy three pounds too and I just think everything could be right for him to bounce back to form.

Selections:

3.35 Exeter – Fletchers Flyer 8/1ew

3.45 Punchestown – Burning Ambition 7/4 (NAP)

4.20 Punchestown – White Arm 18/1ew

Saturday selections – Newbury & Warwick

The Betfair Hurdle takes centre stage on another fantastic Saturday of jumps action and the hopes of those who followed my antepost selections last month sit with Gary Moore’s Knocknanuss, advised at 20/1. As mentioned in that blog however, I think Moon Racer is the best handicapped horse in the race. I expected him to take a different path but here he is and at a whopping 33/1 I just have to include him in my selections too.

Without doubt the horse I’m most looking to seeing is Barters Hill. Ben Pauling’s stable star has been on a long road to recovery after injury in November 2016 but is now back and if he can show he’s still the same horse he was two years ago he has a massive chance of making it a winning comeback. Fourth in the Albert Bartlett behind Unowhatimeanharry, he beat both Altior and Buveur D’air in his bumper season before that and is a horse who hopefully can still fulfil some of his huge potential. If he can pass his Newbury test with flying colours then he is undoubtedly a player for the Stayers’ Hurdle and with non runner no bet now in play I think he’s worth investing in at 25/1 before tomorrow afternoon.

I wouldn’t usually tip up odds on shots here but I think 8/13 about the returning Altior in the Game Spirit looks quite generous. He’s reportedly been flying in training at Seven Barrows and if he’s even within 75% of his best he’ll dispatch Politologue and co with the minimum of fuss, despite Paul Nicholls’ contender being the best of the rest in terms of British two mile chasers this season.

My nap also comes at Newbury in the form of Brewin’upastorm in the listed bumper that concludes the card. Olly Murphy’s son of Milan was mightily impressive in winning by nine lengths on his rules debut at Hereford last month and is likely to be a leading contender for top novice hurdle honours next season. Before that he is a strong fancy to pick up this prize and even though the 4/1 has already been snapped up, he still rates a very good bet at 3/1 in my book.

Away from Newbury, the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices Chase is the highlight of the card at Warwick. Harry Whittington’s Saint Calvados has been put in as a very strong favourite but he hasn’t faced anything of the quality of animal he is meeting here and I want to take him on. The horse I want to be with instead is North Hill Harvey, a Grade 2 winner at Cheltenham in November before finishing second in the Henry VIII at Sandown, even though that race did somewhat fall apart. He’s a classy performer though and let’s not forget ran in that 2016 Supreme which, in a shameless plug, you may have seen me write about earlier this week elsewhere… (click here)

Selections:

1.50 Newbury – Barters Hill 3/1

2.40 Warwick – North Hill Harvey 3/1

3.00 Newbury – Altior 8/13

3.35 Newbury – Knocknanuss (previously advised 20/1) & Moon Racer 33/1ew

4.40 Newbury – Brewin’upastorm 3/1 (NAP)

Antepost:

Stayers’ Hurdle – Barters Hill 25/1ew NRNB

Friday selections – Bangor & Kempton

The last time King’s Socks was on a racetrack he finished just two and a half lengths adrift of Footpad in an Auteuil Grade 1, form that certainly doesn’t look too shoddy. Subsequently bought for a pretty penny by Bryan Drew to run for David Pipe in the summer of 2016, connections have suffered a frustrating time with the six-year-old since with injuries delaying his British debut. The wait is over now though, as he lines up at Kempton in what promises to be a big couple of days for the owner with his Moon Racer also in action on Saturday in the Betfair Hurdle.

King’s Socks faces some stiff opposition, with Modus in particular a big danger, especially considering the French recruit must hand the Nicholls horse four pounds, but at 11/2 he looks overpriced on his very good form across the Channel and I’m prepared to take the risk.

Following a barren run, no trainer is in better form now than Ben Pauling. Like London buses he’s had four winners over the past week or so and can add to that figure with Carlos Du Fruitier at Bangor. Despite being pulled up on his last outing after seeming in distress, tests revealed nothing was amiss and if he’s back to the form of his win at Wetherby in November then he holds strong claims. He beat Jammin Masters that day, a horse which has since impressed with victory at Chepstow. Another win for Pauling would certainly be a further boost ahead of Barters Hill’s return this weekend.

One other fascinating contender at Bangor on Friday is Module, who runs in a hunter chase off a mark of 134. That’s a staggering 30 pounds lower than his rating when finishing fourth in the Shloer Chase in 2014 and 20 pounds lower than his mark when finishing in the same position in the race two years later. Admittedly he’s now 11 and on the downgrade, but if he can show anything like his old form then surely he’s thrown in here, especially with another five pounds coming off from the claim of jockey Noel George.

Selections:

1.40 Bangor – Ron’s Dream 6/4

2.25 Kempton – King’s Socks 11/2

2.45 Bangor – Module 11/2ew

3.20 Bangor – Carlos Du Fruitier 7/2 (NAP)