It is well documented that the Paul Nicholls string has been running below par of late and early in the week he suggested a bad batch of hay was to blame. He advised that he would not have runners in the early part of the week but suggested on Monday that he would have runners at Huntingdon on Thursday and Kempton on Friday. He didn’t.
This is an important, but hardly pivotal, weekend for the yard with the spring Festivals in mind – he often has a quiet January – but he does have three of his stable stars out at Newbury on Saturday and he will be looking for an upswing in his yard’s fortunes given he has only had one winner from his last 39 runners.
I do think Bravemansgame, Clan Des Obeaux and Hitman (3.00) should all win their respective races, but it is only the latter that appeals from a betting perspective in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase.
Hitman looked a non-stayer in the 2m 4f Grade 1 at Aintree back in the spring, despite scoring over the trip here previously, and the forecast good ground is ideal for the 6-y-old who receives 6lbs from Sceau Royal who heads the market for a back-to-form Alan King.
There was 5/2 available on Thursday but the selection is a top price of 9/4 with bet365, William Hill and BetVictor at the time of posting.
Recommendation: Hitman at 9/4
Only fourteen go to post for the valuable Betfair Hurdle which is both surprising and disappointing. The market is headed by the progressive novices Broomfield Burg – trained by Nicky Henderson who has such a good record in the race – and Japer One and the latter is of particular interest.
Colin Tizzard’s horse travelled like the best horse in the race when run out of it close home in a decent novice hurdle at Cheltenham on his penultimate start, before landing the odds on soft ground at Taunton last time. He looks the one to beat but I do think that Boothill (3.35) who is fitted with a first-time tongue-tie will run a big race for Harry Fry.
The ew selection is 8/1 with bet365 – 4 places – and has long been on my radar for a big handicap hurdle on decent ground. I thought he travelled supremely well when finishing third behind Soaring Glory on soft ground here on his reappearance and he is taken to reverse the form on 4lb better terms. Do note Fry blamed himself postrace for the defeat of Boothill suggesting he had left him a bit short of peak fitness ahead of that Ascot run.
The 7-year-old was taken out of a race here over fences on account of the prevailing good ground – not good to soft as official description – back in the autumn and he looked a non-stayer over fences over an additional half-mile at Exeter back in December.
Boothill has only raced four times under rules, and this will be his first try going left-handed although he doesn’t show a marked tendency to go right at his obstacles.
I suggested at the beginning of the week that this was a big week for the Fry stable and they had a welcome winner at Taunton on Tuesday. I will be disappointed if Boothill does not run a big race.
Recommendation: Boothill at 8/1 (Each-Way)
The Grade 2 Kingmaker Chase at Warwick is a tremendous renewal with the progressive Brave Seasca likely to set a decent gallop for Edwardstone and Third Time Lucki (2.05) and I hope to see the Dan Skelton runner reverse previous Sandown form with Edwardson on today’s better ground. Third Time Lucki was not suited to having to make his own running at Sandown where he did not jump with his usual aplomb on ground slower than ideal.
One note of caution; Skelton suggested his gelding suffered a slight overreach at Doncaster last time and it is a slight surprise to see him out again just a fortnight since his fluent win in south Yorkshire. Third Time Lucki has never struck me as an Arkle winner, but the Grade 1 at Aintree should be ideal.
Edwardstone was brought down at Warwick on his chase debut but has not put a foot wrong since. The Alan King stable have bounced back to their best form in recent days and Edwardstone is a worthy market leader, but I do think today’s conditions are perfect for Third Time Lucki.
Recommendation: Third Time Lucki at 2/1
I have been waiting for Sunset West (3.08) to race right-handed over fences for Phil Kirby since he finished second at Ayr over the larger obstacles – jumped right – at the end of November. He looked to have a gilt-edged opportunity at Market Rasen last month only for the meeting to be abandoned through frost.
So, what does he do today? He rocks up back over hurdles at Uttoxeter on a left-hand track; but I cannot desert him. I would imagine Kirby wants to maintain his novice status over fences until next season and this looked a good opportunity for the Irish import to lose his maiden tag, but why go anti-clockwise? He jumped right when finishing second to Enquarde over timber at Newcastle back in December 2020.