Our racing expert marks your card for Thursday's action.
National Hunt racing makes a welcome return to Hereford this afternoon after a near four-year absence and there are some classy sorts amongst the entries.
The opening “national hunt” novices’ hurdle sees the return to action of Nicky Henderson’s smart bumper performer RATHER BE, who was not beaten far in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival when last seen out in March. A Ludlow winner last December before only finding the highly regarded Snow Leopardess too good under a penalty on his next start, he has reportedly schooled well at home and this looks a nice introduction for him.
That said, several of his rivals have shown potential too, including Evan Williams Bach De Clermont, who was an impressive winner of his only Irish point-to-point, while David Pipe’s Daklondike is better than he showed on his Kelso debut when sent off 5/4 favourite. But the Henderson runner has a touch of class about him and can see them off before going on to tackle stronger company.
A far more appealing bet comes in the shape of the Harry Whittington-trained EMERGING FORCE, who is tackling fences for the first time in the beginners’ chase. He looked a bright prospect when winning three of his first four hurdle starts last winter – testing conditions found him out when beaten into third at Newbury – and he’s was unlucky not to score at Haydock in March as he was three lengths clear and going well when unseating his rider at the last. He’d probably had enough for the season when pulling up at the Punchestown Festival on his only subsequent start, though the fact he was sent off at just 6/1 for that Grade 1 win by Bellshill is an indication of the high regard he is held in.
A summer at grass will have done him the power of good and this tall, good-looking sort could really come into his own over the bigger obstacles this season. It’s early days to be talking about the big spring festivals but he looks well up to the standard required and I expect him to make a winning start. This is no gimme, mind, and Paul Nicholls’ Rainy City in particular looks a danger given he is race-fit and will be well at home on the good ground and right-handed track. The Whittington runner looks to have more scope, though, and I’m hopeful his class can see him through.
The handicaps run later on the card look trickier to solve, as you’d expect. The 3m1f contest is arguably the most competitive handicap chase run this season with three last-time-out winners in the field. The Tourard Man has been well placed by Alan King to win four on the bounce, the last twice in novice chase company, while No No Mac is chasing a hat-trick after wins at Market Rasen and Towcester, the latest coming at the end of May. He should be straight enough on his return with his stable going great guns. Belmount took advantage of a drop in grade to score at Uttoxeter last time and is clearly in great heart.
However, it could be worth taking a chance on the fitness of the Tom George-trained ROC D’APSIS with tasty odds on offer. His stable has made a bright start to the season with seven winners on the board, with a couple of those coming in the last fortnight, both of whom were ridden by new stable jockey Adrian Heskin. Considered to be one of the brightest talents riding in Ireland before the switch to Britain, he could have a willing partner in the selection whose last two chase wins have come after a break and, still only seven, could be on the right side of the handicapper. Seemingly best on a right-handed track and on decent ground, he could well make light of a 180-day absence.
Kerry Lee was one of the success stories of last season after taking over from her father, Robert, and her chasers in particular have proved profitable to follow – her 20 winners over the bigger obstacles last season yielded a £1 level-stakes profit of £65.43. She’s hit the ground running this term too with four of her 17 chase runners (24%) obliging for a small profit and she’ll be keen to mark the return of racing to what is her local track with a winner.
In ACES OVER EIGHTS, who contests the 2m contest, she looks to have a fine chance of doing just that as the seven-year-old has looked progressive since being sent over fences and being fitted with cheek-pieces, winning at Towcester (2m, good to firm) when last seen out in May following on from a close second at Worcester. The form doesn’t amount to much but she’s only gone up 4lb for winning and there could be more to come from this lightly-raced mare before the ground goes against her. Jamie Moore does the steering.