Our racing expert marks your card for Friday's action.
The opening handicap chase for amateur riders looks wide open, but one who won’t fail through lack of assistance in the saddle is Charlie Mann’s PICKAMIX as he has the services of crack amateur Sam Waley-Cohen. The six-year-old looks to have a right chance on form too having found the frame on all three of his chase starts this season, most recently when finishing a close up third in a similar race at Cheltenham. He was doing all his best work at the finish on that occasion and was a little over half a length behind the winner at the line, so the stiff uphill finish of this track is made to measure for this progressive young grey. The stable form (2-9 in the last fortnight) provides further encouragement for a bet, if needed.
The Grade 2 2m3f novices’ hurdle on the card is an absolute cracker with all eight runners bringing recent winning form to the table. Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side is the only unbeaten runner amongst them and he’s entitled to favouritism after getting up close home in another Grade 2 at Cheltenham (2m5f) last time. He does have a penalty to carry, though, and the step down in trip isn’t ideal given he looks a real staying type and a candidate for the Albert Bartlett in March.
He’s somewhat reluctantly opposed on this occasion in favour of DYNAMITE DOLLARS, who is representing Paul Nicholls. He surprised the champion trainer when winning over 2m at Chepstow on his reappearance as he is a close relative of Big Buck’s and is considered to need further. After following up at Exeter with the minimum of fuss at Exeter, he certainly looked ready for a step up in trip when a keeping-on third at Haydock (2m) on his most recent outing, despite not enjoying the testing conditions. Clearly still on an upward curve, he should make his presence felt on today’s better ground and reward each-way support.
It doesn’t take much to persuade me to back a Ben Pauling-trained runner as I’m a huge fan of the trainer and when you consider his strike rate of 23% this season, which jumps to 29% (6-21) in the last fortnight, it’s easy to see why. So, while his BALLY GILBERT doesn’t exactly jump off the page as a potential winner of the 2m handicap chase given his most recent efforts, it could be worth giving the six-year-old the benefit of the doubt.
Besides, he’s no forlorn hope on form having chased home the smart Mount Mews in a bumper on his racecourse debut and he was entitled to need the run when finishing eighth on his chase debut over 2m4f here last month. Given he was placed on both his Irish point-to-point starts, he was always going to come into his own when sent over fences and he is surely better than his current mark of 117. As he stays further than today’s trip, I’d expect Nico de Boinville to make plenty use of him, with the stiff uphill finish also helping to bring his stamina into play, and Pauling is giving him further assistance by applying a first-time tongue-tie.
All odds were correct at time of posting.