Our racing expert marks your card for Thursday's action.
Dan Skelton is yet to have a runner at Carlisle, let alone a winner, but he can put that right this afternoon.
He sends four horses up form his Warwickshire base and all the quartet look to hold chances. His AINTREE MY DREAM is his best hope, though, as he looks to have just Jonjo O’Neill’s Above Board to beat in the opening novices’ hurdle. That horse is respected but he looked more of a grinder than a quickener when winning a Chepstow bumper over a year ago now. Today’s stiff track and forecast soft ground will help him in that respect, but those conditions don’t harm the selection’s chances either.
A son of Saints Des Saints, who is proving very popular as a sire of jumpers, he plied his early trade in Irish point-to-points, getting off the mark on his final outing in that sphere in January. He must have changed hands for a pretty penny but his new connections got an immediate return on their investment when the gelding won a bumper at Warwick on his British debut. The form of that race could not have worked out better as the second and third have both won since, while the fourth Azzerti ran an eye-catching second behind a Paul Nicholls-trained improver at Fontwell yesterday. Even the fifth horse home, Eamon An Croic, wasn’t beaten far when runner-up on his hurdles debut for David Pipe.
Given the winner looked different class to his Warwick rivals, it will be disappointing to say the least if he can’t win his fair share of races. He’s going to be a chaser in time but ought to be up to winning over hurdles when faced with a stamina test, like today. Reported to have enjoyed a good summer and schooled well, he’s hard to resist and the presence of the O’Neill runner ensures he’s a backable price.
As mentioned, his stablemates are also worth a second look. Wilton Man has a favourites chance in the 2m4f handicap chase and Oldgrangewood should go well in the 2m1f handicap hurdle, though he didn’t appear to relish soft ground when winning at Ayr in February. Perhaps Skelton’s AL SHAHIR is the one to complete a stable double in the closing bumper. A superbly bred type, the market will tell us whether he’s fancied to go in at the first time of asking. The trainer’s brother Harry gets the leg up on all four.
But there’s an even better bet running in the feature 2m novices’ limited handicap chase at Ludlow in the shape of the Jonjo O’Neill-trained I’DLIKETHEOPTION. A three-time winner over hurdles, he was always going to be a better chaser and ran a face full of promise when chasing home the more experienced Master Dee on his debut at Newton Abbot in August, going down by just half a length with a couple of decent sorts in behind. He again had Master Dee as one of his opponents on his next start in a similar race to today’s earlier this month and he would surely have given that horse a race but for pecking and unseating his rider four out when going well.
That was his only semblance of a mistake so I doubt his confidence was effected and remain convinced he has a good pot in him off his current mark of 122. Both his chase starts so far have been over 2m4f plus, but he gives the impression that a truly run race over two miles is what he needs over fences and he should get that today with some in-form rivals taking him on. They include the only last-time-out winner After Eight Sivola, who was perhaps fortunate to score at Newton Abbot 13 days ago, and Canicallyouback, who has been running well but has been beaten off lower marks than today’s on his last three starts.
The selection is taken to improve past them and the booking of Barry Geraghty, who has a 1-3 strike rate at the track and is here for just one ride, clinches the bet.