With the flat season finale at Doncaster called off owing to monsoon-like conditions in South Yorkshire, we really have jumped head first into the wintry murkiness of the National Hunt season.
These are the afternoons jumps fans simply love and these five punts will hopefully bring some good value to us on Saturday, beginning with a quick trip over the water to Ireland.
1.05 Naas (Poplar Square Chase – Grade 3) – DUCA DE THAIX
We have the prospect here of an odds-on favourite, or at least a short-priced one anyway, but on bare form Willie Mullins’ Cilaos Emery isn’t exactly miles ahead of this field and his low mileage, usually a good thing, is due to problems which is always a worry for a punter and a handicapper.
Ornua will challenge him at the head of the market and came into calculations as well, but the value call is Gordon Elliott and Rachael Blackmore’s Duca De Thaix. His forecast price of 5/1 is reflective of how his season tailed off last time around, but it is not reflective of his ability.
Before he arguably went “over the top” after a long and tough campaign, he’d reached a level last season good enough to win this sort of race and he may yet get better.
1.30 Aintree (Handicap Chase) – THE LAST DAY
Potentially this is a very competitive handicap chase to be run in the mud, so jumping mistakes will need to be at a premium and stamina will come somewhat to the fore despite the two-mile trip and the flat track.
While Lillington and Solar Impulse are in with chances and Charmant looks as though he can climb the ranks a little as the season goes on, it’s Evan Williams’ seven-year-old The Last Day who appeals most after a debut chasing campaign last season that saw him take in only four races, mixing it with some good horses and eventually winning well.
We are not yet close to seeing how good this horse can be over the larger obstacles and I’d think he has improved plenty over the summer, making his handicap mark look a little generous now and this would be a good prize for Evan Williams and jockey Adam Wedge to win, so no doubt he has been prepared meticulously.
2.05 Aintree (Handicap Chase) – OLDGRANGEWOOD
Another competitive heat on the Mildmay course but again one in which we can get some decent betting value, with Dan Skelton’s Oldgrangewood potentially well-in now after a break from racing and for going down in trip to today’s two-and-a-half miles.
The eight-year-old gelding has actually reached a handicap mark of 147 over fences before, however he runs here off just 136 so having been freshened up and having had wind surgery back in September it is hoped he’s back to his best now and if so, he’ll have plenty in hand at the weights.
Both Riders Onthe Storm and Cepage have capabilities and can get involved in the contest for sure, but at prices of around 8/1 advertised on Friday the selection is very definitely worth a small punt.
2.25 Wincanton (Rising Stars Novices’ Chase – Grade 2) – LE MUSEE
While recommending lowish stakes so as to not take too much of a risk, I think it might just be worth taking a bit of a punt on this Le Musee of Nigel Hawke’s yard in Devon at what is a hugely generous 10/1 at the time of writing.
While he pulled-up at Perth in September, he’s now been handed a visor to sharpen him up and it may well do the trick. Before that run he had reached a thoroughly good level when scoring back there in the shadow of the Scone Palace on soft ground over two-and-a-half miles, something to consider carefully here.
The ground at Wincanton will take a little rain on Saturday, Le Musee is back at what looks like the right trip and he’s only rated 4lbs lower than likely short-priced favourite Reserve Tank so all in all looks overpriced. Colin Tizzard’s horse has had to pull out the stops to reach that level, while Le Musee hasn’t been tested yet in a race of this magnitude and so it’s possible that he may just improve.
Solomon Grey and If You Say Run look to be best of the rest, but on known evidence should not be getting past the top two on this particular shortlist.
2.40 Aintree (Handicap Hurdle) – DIOMEDE DES MOTTES
The Pertemps Hurdle Series is always fascinating, always exciting and above all always competitive so there are no freebies to be gained from a betting point of view as the series goes on.
So, while on private ratings this race naturally came out pretty tight at the weights, especially between Diomede Des Mottes and Rosy World who topped the list in that order, it’s the former who just about gets the nod and he’s set to go off at a backable price.
Challenger Rosy World, a six-year-old mare, has no weight whatsoever and has put in some good performances on rain-softened ground and so she rates very highly. The issues are that having done her best work at Plumpton over 2½ miles, we cannot guarantee that the three miles around Aintree in a hotter race can bring out the best in her and so caution is advised.
In the case of Diomede Des Mottes on the other hand, he’s won over this trip and on soft ground meaning racing conditions should not worry him, while last time out he ran a cracker to finish fourth behind Thyme Hill in a Grade 2 race and so quality is not the issue either. He’s race fit, good value and deserves a little support.
Dan Skelton’s runner it is then, with Olly Murphy’s Skandiburg making the shortlist too although it appears he’ll need to improve a fair bit to actually overhaul our two, despite having the potential to go off as favourite come post time.