Our racing expert gives his verdict on the four televised races from Prestbury Park.
2:00 3m1f (Old) “Matchbook Betting Exchange” Handicap Chase (Class 2) (4yo+)
Likely favourite For Good Measure is interesting in that he is trained by Philip Hobbs, who has won five of the last ten runnings, and is well handicapped on a mark of 132 with just 10st 1lb on his back. He’s also gone well at Cheltenham in the past, albeit over hurdles, and is still young enough at seven to be still improving.
But the bookmakers are wise to his chances and while he’s worth a saver at least, I’m drawn to BRAQUEUR D’OR at bigger odds. Trained by Paul Nicholls, who is in form (11-33 in the last fortnight) and loves to get one ready for this meeting, he has had a wind operation since running down the field at Ayr in April. In which case, he might be able to return to the sort of form that saw him win three times over fences and finish fourth in last season’s Ladbrokes Trophy (Hennessy) off a 4lb higher mark than today’s. The key to him is a decent surface and providing there is no more rain, the forecast good ground will be fine for him. Harry Cobden, who was on board at Newbury last November, is booked.
2:35 2m½f (2m87y) (Old) Masterson Holdings Hurdle (Class 2) (4yo)
Redicean looks plenty short enough at around the 11/8 mark given that all three of his wins came at Kempton and he relinquished his unbeaten record with a rather tame effort in the Triumph Hurdle, meaning he needs to prove himself at this track.
I’d much rather be on Philip Hobbs’ GUMBALL at Paddy Power’s 11/4 as he was a decent juvenile last term when winning three times and finishing second in an Aintree Grade 1 behind We Have A Dream. He’s probably best on good ground rather than the heavy winter stuff, so he will find conditions to his liking and the 8lb he receives from the favourite can prove decisive. The rest have to step up on what they’ve shown so far to trouble the selection.
3:10 2m (1m7f199y) (Old) Randox Health Handicap Chase (Class 2) (4yo+)
Last year’s winner Foxtail Hill should make a bold defence off a 2lb lower mark, while Tommy Silver, who is much preferred over stablemate Modus over this trip, is another well treated runner if bouncing back to his best.
But they’ve all got to go some to stop BIGMARTRE winning first time up for the fourth season in a row. It goes without saying that Harry Whittington’s seven-year-old is best caught fresh and a stiff 2m on decent ground is what he needs to show his best. I’m not sure he is particularly well handicapped on a mark of 148 and both his previous visits here have ended in defeat (once over hurdles). But he’s such a good jumper when allowed to get into a rhythm up front, which is what you need here, and for that reason I’m prepared to take a chance on him at Hills’ 9/2.
Of the rest, Duke Of Navan is a solid 2m handicapper who could go well, although he was getting 8lb from the selection when a short head separated the pair at Doncaster in January and is 4lb worse off today.
3:45 3m (2m7f208y) (Old) Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (Series Qualifier) (Class 2) (4yo+)
This is competitive but its hard to get away from the forecast favourite, THECLOCKISTICKING, and I’m not going to miss an 11/2 winner for the sake of trying to find a value alternative elsewhere. The bookmakers have clearly cottoned on to the fact he is potentially a big improver now stepped up to 3m for the first time, having given the impression he was crying out for a stamina test. That he has been running so well over shorter, including over 2m4f here in the spring when second behind the promising Diese Des Bieffes, shows he has bags of talent and he also has a fitness advantage after a couple of runs this autumn. He was finishing better than anything when fifth in the 2m3f Silver Trophy at Chepstow two weekends ago and his shrewd trainer Stuart Edmunds, who is operating at a strike rate of 24 per cent (7-29) this season, may have had this contest in mind for a while.
Of the opposition, I’ve got respect for Dan Skelton’s Notwhatiam, who gave the impression he wasn’t doing a tap in front when winning by a head on his Uttoxeter reappearance, suggesting he could pull out more if needed off today’s 6lb higher mark. Paul Nicholls’ The Eaglehaslanded is on a workable mark if he retains his old ability having seen racecourse action just once (pulled up) since finishing sixth in a handicap hurdle here in December 2016. He is likely to get the good ground he needs.
All odds were correct at time of posting.