Our racing expert marks your card for Thursday's jumps action at Catterick.
Catterick stages a competitive seven-race card this afternoon and the feature North Yorkshire Grand National Handicap Chase over a few yards shy of 3m6f houses the best bet of the day in the shape of Malcolm Jefferson’s SUN CLOUD.
The now 11-year-old has been in splendid form since his attentions were switched back to hurdles last April, winning three of his last four starts, and now rated 132 in that sphere he looks well treated on a mark 124 for his return to chasing, having been as high as 140 at his peak. That won’t have been lost on his shrewd trainer, who has probably had this valuable prize in mind for a good while and should have him ready to go after a 70-day absence. Fully effective on the forecast soft ground and proven around this idiosyncratic track – one of his four chase wins came in the 2014 renewal of this race – he must go close under his regular rider Brian Hughes.
Niceandeasy has been put in as 13/8 favourite for the 2m3f handicap hurdle run later on the card and he is worth taking on at those cramped odds, despite his 3-4 record. His owner described him as a “little bit quirky” and “not straightforward” after he had justified odds-on favouritism at Hexham in November, and he duly blotted his copybook when attempting the four-timer at Ayr just nine days ago. Sent off the 9/4 favourite, he made a bad blunder at the first and, clearly learning nothing from that, he made an even worse error at the second, giving his rider no chance of staying on board.
He clearly has something to prove and while this is a bad race he might struggle to give 8lb to Dan Skelton’s POKARA DU LYS, whose rider Harry Skelton seems certain to try and make all. Such tactics didn’t come off over an extended 3m1f here last time as having skipped clear down the back straight, his stamina ran out and he was reeled in by the two horses that beat him. Still, that was his best effort in seven starts over hurdles to date, having been shown some respite from the assessor, and he will be far happier over today’s shorter trip. At 11/2, he’s a shade of value too.
Nendrum looks sure to go off favourite for the closing 2m handicap hurdle as he’s well in under his 7lb penalty for winning at Musselburgh eight days ago. Once a headstrong sort, he now settles much better and the results are there to see as he also ran well when third on his previous outing, also at Musselburgh. But I won’t be touching him with a bargepole at the current 7/4 as he’s much better going right-handed – his trainer Sandy Thompson said as much last week – and today’s ground is also softer than he’s used to.
Finding one to beat him is no easy job it has to be said as his rivals are a pretty uninspiring bunch, but at least Donald McCain’s HIT AND RUN is on an upward curve and he’s worth a small interest at 6/1. He needed the help of the Stewards when getting the verdict at Sedgefield on Boxing Day, having been beaten a neck by the disqualified winner at the line, but he was rightly awarded that race having been carried right across the track. A good second at the same track previously, also on soft ground, he’s clearly in peak form and the application of first-time cheekpieces may well eek out a little more improvement, while he also benefits from Lorcan Murtagh’s 5lb claim.
All odds were correct at time of posting.