Our resident tipster is siding with a couple of good ground performers this afternoon.
The ground is firming up over jumps and it’s having an effect on field sizes with just 32 horses declared at Exeter, where two of the races will be contested by just two runners.
It’s hardly enticing fare for punters and with the all-weather and a Brighton twilight card the alternatives on offer, I wouldn’t blame punters for giving it a miss altogether. That said, there are a couple of jumpers who catch the eye this afternoon and they could reward support at decent odds.
First up, Philip Hobbs’ FREE OF CHARGE must take all the beating in this afternoon’s 2m7f handicap hurdle (2.30pm) having beaten 12 rivals over track and trip 21 days ago on ground that was officially “good”. That was his first worthwhile form since finishing second over 2m1f here in October on “good to firm” and it doesn’t take a genius to work out he needs a decent surface to show his best, which is exactly what’s on offer today.
The handicapper has raised him 7lb for that success but he’s probably still got a half stone or more in hand and today’s rivals don’t look particularly taxing. The best of them may be Horsted Valley who is certainly capable of what he’s been showing this season and it’s no coincidence he won his sole bumper start on good ground, though his stable is going through a quiet patch right now. Hobbs, on the other hand, is finishing the season with a flourish and the selection, who will have the services of Richard Johnson, can be another winner for him.
The fields have held up considerably better at Ludlow where the going is good and the feature 3m handicap chase (2.40pm) has attracted ten horses, providing there are no non-runners. None can be ruled out with any confidence and even rank outsider Mart Lane is interesting if the first-time visor has a positive effect as he’s undeniably well treated. However, the one to be on is surely Dan Skelton’s GUIDING GEORGE as he’s got a more progressive profile than most of these and is weighted to reverse recent Fakenham running with Benevolent, who beat him half a length at the the Norfolk track and is a couple of pounds worse off today.
This more galloping track is another thing in the selection’s favour and he showed what he could do around such a circuit when scoring at Doncaster in November. He’s running off just 6lb higher now and this easy point winner has surely got another handicap in him off his current perch of 121. The ground is the key to him as it was “good” when he won his maiden hurdle at Kilbeggan and on the soft side of good when he ran an excellent third over hurdles at Cheltenham two starts back. So, his Doncaster win on “soft” can be rated a good deal higher and the runner-up Carli King has boosted the form since by winning twice. His stable is firing on all cylinders with ten winners in the last fortnight.