Our racing expert marks your card for Friday's jumps action at Ayr.
There are some tricky looking handicaps at Ayr this afternoon and the drying ground north of the border only makes them harder as the form is likely to be turned on its head.
One horse who might appreciate the conditions more than most in the feature handicap chase over 2m4f is the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained BALLYHILL. He has won on heavy and as recently as Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, but I’ve always suspected he was better on a sounder surface and his early season novice chase form bears that out. His second to Sceau Royal and third to North Hill Harvey in October came on good ground and he wasn’t beaten far in either of those contests, while both his wins last season came on ground officially rated good.
Off what looks a winnable mark of 136, down 2lb from last time, and having had a small break since running at the Cheltenham Festival (9th of 19 in the novices’ handicap chase), he could easily pop up here at a double-digit price.
Brian Ellison’s SMART TALK, who contests the mares’ handicap hurdle over 3m, is another who will appreciate the drying conditions having made hard work of her three races this season, all since January on soft/heavy. To be fair, she would have needed the run on her belated return at Doncaster and ran better on her next outing at Newcastle, only to fold quite tamely when sent off favourite for a race at Fakenham last time.
She’s clearly better than that and the combination of better ground and a slipped handicap mark of 126 (down from a peak of 149) could see her back to the sort of form which won her four races last term, including a Grade 2 at Doncaster on ground. It’s also worth remembering she was sent off at just 6/1, behind the odds-on Limini, for a race at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and I doubt she has regressed that much since then.
The trip is the unknown with her as she’s never gone beyond 2m51/2f (kept on into third) under Rules, but she did win a point over this trip and has bags of stamina in her pedigree, being a full sister to 2m7f-3m1f useful hurdle/smart chase winner Idle Talk. Indeed, this step up in trip could be what she has needed all along and, with odds of 22/1 available, I’m willing to take a chance.
Her stablemate GENERAL MAHLER could also be worth an interest when he goes in the closing 3m handicap hurdle, and for much the same reasons. He has been running on soft ground all winter and has posted a couple of decent efforts, going closest when beaten a neck at Market Rasen and filling third spot in a valuable handicap chase at Musselburgh in February. He had a wind operation after that and reappeared 55 days later in a handicap hurdle at Carlisle, only to fall down the back straight.
He also fell at this meeting a couple of seasons ago and looked unlucky on that occasion as he was about to deliver his challenge when coming down at the third last. Clearly he needs to put in a clear round here and is not without risks, but he’s certainly handicapped to win one of these, having been dropped to a mark of 110 from a high of 124, and his owner has always thought he needed better ground to show his best. At 16/1, I’m in for small each-way money.
All odds were correct at time of posting.