2.20pm Huntingdon - Nickle Back
The Peterborough Chase is the feature at Huntingdon this afternoon, but there is a valuable handicap hurdle over the minimum trip, and Sarah Humphrey and Aidan Coleman have decided to let NICKLE BACK – who is fitted with a hood for the first time – take his chance at two miles for the first time having failed to settle when beaten 20L on his first start in over 400-days at Cheltenham last month.
The each-way selection tanked his way to the front and through the race, having been keen to post, before fading from two out. I thought he looked like a potential star when he routed his field at Fontwell on soft ground – 2m 3f - last October, and I appreciate this experiment could end in tears.
He was, however, one of the horses I was most looking forward to seeing this term, although I thought it would be on softer ground over an additional half-mile and fences!
First Impression and Big Boy Bobby are well handicapped and are big dangers in a hot race, but I cannot let Nickle Back go unbacked at 7/1, although I remain sceptical that these are his optimum conditions.
2.55pm Huntingdon - Pic D’Orhy
First Flow won the Peterborough first time out last season, so we know he goes well fresh, and he will be a threat to all if he can avoid the mistakes that have prevented him from going to the very top. Last year’s success was gained on good ground, but he is arguably better on softer ground and reluctantly overlooked.
Millers Bank has failed to finish in three of his eight chase starts but is a top-class chaser when everything goes to plan, and he was impressive over C&D on his chase debut and won a Grade 1 at Aintree back in the spring. He looks like the main danger to PIC D’ORHY, who has his optimum conditions this afternoon and gave Millers Bank 5lbs and a beating when landing the Grade 2 Pendil at Kempton over Christmas.
I was surprised that Paul Nicholls was considering running the selection on heavy ground over three miles at Sandown last month, but the meeting was abandoned. He had looked better than ever when winning at Newton Abbot previously, and he can give champion trainer Paul Nicholls just a second win in the race – sole previous win Le Roi Miguel in 2004.
1.35pm Kelso - Grand Voyage
Git Maker will make a better chaser than hurdler for connections, but he has been put in as a short-priced favourite for the 3m novices’ limited handicap chase, and he was flattered by his finishing position at Sandown last time, has stamina to prove and may prefer to go right-handed having jumped out to his right when winning at Newcastle over timber back in the spring. He has been put in at 6/5, and preference is for GRAND VOYAGE.
The selection has a good course record and has run very well on his two chase starts, winning over an extended 2m 4f at Ayr last time when he gave every indication he would appreciate today’s step up in distance. He has been raised 4lbs for that win, which looks fair, and he gets the vote for the Coltherds, who had a welcome winner with Hidden Commander at Sedgefield on Friday.
1.25pm Fairyhouse - Marine Nationale (Nap of the Day)
Champ Kiely could be another star for Willie Mullins, who has saddled the Grade 1 Royal Bond winner five times in the last eight renewals. He was visually very impressive when beating Cheltenham Festival winner Brazil at Tipperary in a Grade 3 back in October. The runner-up has since given the form a boost, but I will support MARINE NATIONALE until the 5-year-old is beaten, as I have been very impressed with his three wins – two Bumpers and one hurdle.
Champ Kiely is likely to make it a decent gallop as he gets further than the minimum trip, and that should suit the unbeaten selection, who owner/trainer Barry Connell says is potentially the best he has had through his hands. He lacks the experience of some of these novices with just the one run over timber, but he gets a narrow vote in a tremendous race renewal.
2.30pm Fairyhouse - Klassical Dream
The wonderful Honeysuckle puts her unbeaten record on the line in the Hatton’s Grace, but I have backed KLASSICAL DREAM each way, even though he must give the wonder mare 7lbs. The dual Champion Hurdler has won this corresponding race for the last three years, and she looked better than ever last term, but I think this 2m 4f trip could be ideal for the Willie Mullins trained 8-year-old who is only rated 2lbs inferior to the mare although her sex allowance makes life so much more difficult for the geldings.
The stable’s Gold Cup winner A Plus Tard was bogged down at Haydock last month, but there will be no such problems for the mare. That said, I do feel Klassical Dream can serve it up to the odds-on favourite.
* Betting odds correct at the time of publication. All odds are subject to changes.