Will Kedjanyi, our racing correspondent, gives his preview of the weekend jump racing action. For access to Will’s regular column join our Community.
We move on from The Showcase at Cheltenham to two strong cards at Wetherby and Ascot. In the north at the former, there’s a fine Grade 2 feature the Bet365 Hurdle (2.45).
At this early stage of the season having had a run can be so crucial and Ballyoptic’s effort in landing the Silver Trophy at Chepstow earlier this month is not only a commendable effort but one that marks him down as serious player in staying hurdles this season. Last year’s Sefton Novice Hurdle winner, who won when trying the trip for the first time, was given a tough ask on his return dropping in trip on the quickest ground he’d ran on. However, he travelled well in front rank and found enough to give a stone to the runner up, a fine effort considering that Nigel Twiston-Davies had poured water on his chances due to him being away from his peak. If he improves for the step back upto 3 miles and the initial run then he should take all the beating and he can carry a 5lbs penalty to victory. He is an interesting contender for the World Hurdle too, with stamina and target assured and the participation of many of those ahead of the market unsure.
JP McManus has two contenders here, one of them part of his spending spree in the summer, Cheltenham Festival winner Unknowhatimeanharry, winner in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. He can continue to do well this year but the form of that race does not appear as strong as that of the Sefton and he could well strip fitter for the run. If In Doubt was unlucky not to land a big handicap hurdle at either Cheltenham or Aintree last year, but he was well beaten in the World Series Hurdle at Punchestown and would have to do better here. This step up in trip could work for Lil Rockefeller, who was so consistent last year over a range of trips upto 2m4f, and he is an interesting each/way player.
It’s also interesting to note that The Romford Pele has already been jocked up for the inform Rebecca Curtis yard, having looked so good back over hurdles when taking apart a decent handicap field at Newton Abbott on his return. It will be fascinating to see if Native River, impressive at the Grand National meeting last year over fences, also takes his place.
In the Charlie Hall Chase (3.20), Colin Tizzard has the Gold Cup favourite in the shape of Thistlecrack, who was impressive on his chasing debut at Chepstow, and his Cue Card may well have won the event last year had he stayed up. He was travelling best at the time and his trashing of the runner up Djakadam at Aintree next time out gave strong support to that theory. Before he had won last year’s renewal, and then the Betfair and King George Chases, the former two by fairly wide margins. The price on him has collapsed, but if he’s healthy then he ought to set a very high standard here and the yard appear to be in decent form.
2015 Gold Cup winner would be a huge player here on his return from injury if going here, although he has not been declared an intended runner. The softer the ground the better for him although there’s not much rain forecast. RSA Chase winner Blaklion, who didn’t appear at his best when he was just third next time at Aintree, would be the main threat although that collateral form does not appear to be working well. Virak gets 10lbs from the top rated horses here although his struggles in handicap company suggest that a 156 rating is already a touch high for him. Menorah, a winner of the Grade 2 Oaksey Chase, is another each/way player here although he has appeared at his best at just short of this current trip.
Dynaste is well treated at these weights although he was well beaten by Cue Card on many occasions last year. That said, this track and trip on good ground ought to suit him a great deal. Irish Cavalier, The Last Samurai and Wakanda are all set to have good handicapping targets.
2.45 Wetherby – 2 pts win Ballyoptic (9/4 general)
3.20 Wetherby – 3 pts win Cue Card (8/11 Hills)
1 pt each/way – Ballyoptic, World Hurdle (16/1 general)
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