Our racing expert is going value-hunting at Newbury this afternoon.
Yesterday’s nap Saint John Henry ran deplorably despite being backed into odds-on – apologies for that – so I’m steering clear of any favourites this afternoon and going value-hunting instead, with a couple of races at Newbury the port of call.
Trainer Tim Vaughan is better known for churning out winners during the summer months but, even so, he’s endured a pretty miserable time of it this winter with something clearly not right with his string. However, he looks to have turned the corner in the last week with three winners on the board and his BASSARABAD could well continue that welcome return to form when he runs in the 3m handicap hurdle (due off 3.00pm).
The five-year-old had shown a glimmer of form in juveniles, including a fourth here in January 2014, but he was always going to do better when sent handicapping and so it proved, with a close second at Chepstow in November (2m3f, heavy) following on from a respectable debut effort at Aintree. That form looks even better now as the Chepstow fourth Zanstra has won a couple of races since, while the third Spice Fair also won and recently finished third in a Grade 3 handicap at Sandown off a mark of 130.
The selection therefore looks potentially very well treated on just 110 and, having pulled up at Plumpton in January when the stable couldn’t buy a winner, it was reassuring to see him bounce back when finishing runner-up in a maiden hurdle at Lingfield (2m3f, heavy) 25 days ago. With the stable in much better form now and over what could be a more suitable trip, he looks well worth chancing at a double-figure price and especially as he will have the services of champion-elect Richard Johnson.
Gala Ball has been put in as favourite for the 2m handicap hurdle run later on the card (due off 4.10pm) and that’s understandable as the Philip Hobbs-trained six-year-old is chasing a four-timer after a couple of wins at Wincanton and here last time. A confirmed mudlark, connections were aiming him at Aintree but with the ground likely to go against him, it’s no surprise to see him turned out this afternoon with the officially going still ‘soft’ – there’s a chance it could dry out a little from that.
However, that’s not the main reason to oppose him as he is up in class here and having been raised a further 10lb for his latest win, he is giving weight away all round. He may still win but the current 9/4 looks pretty stingy, whereas the 8/1 on Nicky Henderson’s CLOSE TOUCH looks excellent value given his profile.
The lightly-raced eight-year-old has been superbly placed by his trainer to win five of his nine career starts (a bumper, three hurdles and a chase). He hasn’t been seen out since pulling up in the Grade 1 novice chase at Aintree last April won by Saphir Du Rheu, but we needn’t worry as he has an excellent record fresh, winning on his racecourse debut and on his reappearance last season after a layoff of over 21 months.
He was also entered in a chase at the track on Saturday but this looks an easier opportunity and his stable seem to do well with chasers who switch back to hurdles, with easy Ascot winner Different Gravey being just one example. Nico de Boinville will get the leg up and I’m hopeful he can give the selection’s owner, The Queen, an early 90th birthday present. Three cheers!