With a mere 10 days separating us from the fireworks of the Cheltenham Festival it’s a weekend for punters to try and earn some much-needed funds and build a war chest, and with a £400,000 Scoop6, live racing with us on Channel 4 from Doncaster and Newbury, plus a valuable card at Kelso, as well as the latest ‘fast track qualifier’ for April’s million pound All-Weather Championships, there are no shortage of opportunities.
While you’re taking time out to scan the form I’d also urge you to spare five minutes to have a look at http://www.walkingthecourses.com/ – it’s the website designed to promote a fantastic cause, and one that all racing fans ought to consider donating a fiver to if you back a winner this weekend.
An ambitious and dedicated racing fan, Richard Farquhar is going to walk a staggering 2,750 miles, all to raise funds for Racing Welfare and the Pancreatic Cancer charity.
The good bit is he gets to walk to all 60 of the UK’s racecourses, arriving on days when there’s racing on, and getting to do a lap of the track itself, hopefully accompanied by the contents of the owners and trainers bar and various layabouts from the media too!
He kicks off at Newmarket on March 20th, and you may well see him out and about if you’re going racing this year.
Back to the urgent matter of trying to bolster the kitty for Cheltenham though, and it’s fascinating to see Davy Russell riding not at Leopardstown as you’d expect, but in South Yorkshire at Doncaster.
Also in action on Turf Moor on Friday, the sought after Irish-based pilot gets the leg-up on back in-form Charlie Longsdon’s Drop Out Joe in the feature BetBright Grimthorpe Handicap Chase (3.45pm), and he might be counting his percentage share of the winner’s cheque on a lightly-weighted youngster having just his fourth start over fences.
History tells us that a big weight spells danger in this race – you have to go back to Cloudy Lane in 2008 to find anything carrying in excess of 10st 12lbs to victory, and only once in a quarter of a century has top weight been successful.
This year’s top weight is Mon Parrain, who managed only eighth in this 12 months ago, and now tries to improve on that from a 4lbs higher mark – not easy.
Last year’s winner Night In Milan is also back for more, but he’s 10lbs higher now and might be vulnerable this time around, despite a solid third in the SkyBet Chase here 35 days ago.
Back then to Drop Out Joe, who comes from a cracking stable who enjoyed form figures of 2,1,2,5,4,2,P,1,2 with their runners in the fortnight to Thursday.
This is his first try in a handicap over fences, after three novices yielded a win at Carlisle, a respectable if distant third to top notchers Kings Palace and Sausalito Sunrise at Cheltenham, and then a pre-Christmas fourth at Ascot.
The last of those was a curious run, in that he appeared to be tailing off, but then picked up the bit and flew at the finish, nearly nicking second.
That was over shy of 2m 6f, so this trip up to 3m 2f appears tailor made, especially as Drop Out Joe is also a former point-to-point winner.
The break will have done him good, a mark of 132 doesn’t appear harsh, securing a lovely racing weight of 10st 10lbs (the exact same carried by 2011 winner Always Right), and it looks as if Charlie Longsdon means business in securing Davy Russell.
Back him each way.
There’s also loads of prize money on offer up at Kelso, and the borders track obviously appeals to Gloucestershire trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, who could do with a confidence boosting winner after a string of placed horses during the week.
After his run down the field in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury Ballyboley could be the one to supply it, lining up under Daryl Jacob in the opening Terry Frame Joiners Novices’ Hurdle at 1.55pm.
Rated 129, he looks certain to benefit from better ground and can add to his Aintree win in December.
Finally, sticking with Kelso throw your lot in with Sue Smith’s smart stayer Cloudy Too to win the listed Totepool Premier Chase at 4.10pm.
There’s much to like about this nine-year-old son of Cloudings, and a 10-month absence shouldn’t be a worry given that he won first time out in both 2012/13 and 2013/14.
Good enough to run in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup this time last year, he isn’t rated 156 by mistake.
Saturday’s best bets:
1.55 Kelso – Terry Frame Joiners Novices’ Hurdle – 1 Ballyboley (win) @ 11/10 with bet365
3.45 Doncaster – BetBright Grimthorpe Handicap Chase – 5 Drop Out Joe (each way) @ 11/2 with Betfair
4.10 Kelso – Totepool Premier Chase – 1 Cloudy Too (win) @ 10/3 with Bet Victor