Highstakesplayer to land the Taunton opener for inform Tom Lacey
Cheltenham Festival week begins with three competitive jumps cards and the first meeting of the year at Stratford. They will not be jumping the water or the open ditch on each circuit in the chases – well it’s not as if they have had six months to prepare the course.
It is a big week for all the top jockeys and Aidan Coleman has been confirmed to ride Jonbon and Epatante tomorrow for owner JP McManus. In the juvenile hurdle I hope to see Fleurman (2.20pm) improve for the step up to this extended 2m 2f trip for Coleman and Olly Murphy who has had a slightly disappointing campaign to date.
His mood will not have improved when he heard Dr T J Eckleburg was a reserve for the Boodles on the opening day of the Festival. Fleurman was a decent stayer on the level for Ralph Beckett and was going away at the finish when winning at Market Rasen last time. He receives 4lbs from the other previous winners Interne De Sivola and Silver Shade with the former likely to reverse Fontwell form with the latter despite meeting on similar terms.
Recommendation: Fleurman (2.20pm Stratford) @ 2/1 with 888sport
Only seven to post for the handicap hurdle over two miles and David Bass goes to Taunton for one ride for Kim Bailey leaving Harrison Beswick to ride Shantou Express (3.30pm) who is fitted with a hood for the first time returning from a three-month lay off.
The each way selection – 12/1 with William Hill – failed to take to fences earlier in the campaign and was a bitter disappointment when pulled up at Doncaster last time. He has been dropped 6lbs for that effort and given three months to get over the run. He was a horse I felt had a huge future as a novice hurdler and this time last year he was beaten a neck by Pay The Piper – received 5lbs – at Wetherby from a 12lbs higher mark – 17lbs if you include Beswick’s claim this afternoon.
Bailey has been pulling up few trees in recent days and it is possible that this is just a pipe-opener for another crack at chasing later in the spring, but he does have bits of form which would make him very tough to beat if back to anywhere near his best.
Recommendation: Shantou Express (3.30pm Stratford) @ 6/1 with bet365
At Taunton I Hope to see Highstakesplayer (2.00pm) follow up last week’s Southwell win when he improved for the step up to two-and-a-half miles for the first time. He must carry a 7lbs penalty for that success, but he is ridden by talented conditional jockey Dylan Kitts who takes off 10lbs this afternoon.
If in the same mood, he will be tough to beat although he did get an excellent ground saving ride at Southwell by Stan Shepherd. The Tom Lacey stable remain in excellent form.
Recommendation: Highstakesplayer (2.00pm Taunton) @ 2/1 with bet365 (NAP)
Revels Hill did us a favour last time, but he does tend to jump out to his left and my two against the field in the 3m 4f handicap chase are Some Detail and The Two Amigos (3.10pm) with preference for the latter as long as the ground does not dry out too much – given as soft at noon on Sunday.
The selection has not been at his very best so far this term, but his handicap mark has taken a dive as a result, and he ran his best race of the season when fourth in the Devon National last month. He is a stone lower than when beaten just 7L in the Midlands National 12 months ago and he has an entry in that Uttoxeter event on Saturday although he is out of the handicap at present and may struggle to get a run.
Recommendation: The Two Amigos (3.10pm Taunton) @ 7/2 with 888sport