It was hard not to be impressed by odds on winners Puffin Billy and Simonsig at Ascot on Friday afternoon, with the short price pair advertising their respective Cheltenham Festival prospects with nigh on flawless displays of jumping, with the duo likely to even better on a more sound surface.
The Arkle is threatening to be absolute dynamite, with Simonsig (now no bigger than 5/2) potentially taking on the likes of Arvika Ligeonniere, Overturn and Captain Conan…one not to be missed were the quartet all to turn up fit and firing!
Weather permitting we should get a glimpse of more quality on Saturday afternoon, though Haydock Clerk of the Course Kirkland Telwright has called a precautionary 7am inspection, concerned that the battering the course has taken as result of the torrential rain in recent days could leave it unraceable.
Fingers crossed he’ll able to give it the green light, as the Merseyside track’s seven race card usually inspires a full house, with festive revellers keen to start the party early at the Newton-le-Willows track.
Hopefully they’ll be raising a glass to a big value each way selection in the 2m 4f Bet At Bluesq.com Handicap Hurdle at 1.45pm.
Lugging a big weight is quite an ask in this sort of ground, and though Donald McCain’s Hollow Tree was massively impressive when winning the Grade 1 Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle on Heavy going at Chepstow 12 months ago and might well be able to take this, I cannot resist having a few quid each way at a tempting price on a horse who’s never been beaten on Heavy.
You get the impression Alan King’s Bakbenscher would rather swim than gallop given the choice, so these conditions should be absolutely perfect – indeed, he’s unbeaten in three starts on ground officially termed Heavy.
Already a winner of two starts over hurdles, he returned to the smaller obstacles after a poor showing in the Racing Post Chase back in February, but failed to spark at Newbury last time out.
This though represents one of the rare occasions where he really does have ‘his’ ground, and reported to have worked well since Newbury he’s worth risking as an each way proposition to at least make the frame, with Stoke firm Bet365 offering 10/1 and 1/4 odds.
King has his team in good nick, as four winners in the last five days would suggest, and something of an upset could be on the cards on a day where there might be the odd surprise.
The card at Haydock is rounded off with a very good 0-140 Handicap Hurdle over three miles, and I hope I’m not barking up the wrong tree in suggesting the Haydock-loving Barafundle could be the one to give them all a headache for Jennie Candlish and Alan O’Keeffe.
I’ve already mentioned top weight isn’t ideal on a day like this, but after making a satisfactory return from 18 months off the track in November there’s a real feeling that this guy could be quite a bit better than his mark of 133.
In a field where Joseph Mercer and Alpha Victor also look to hold strong claims, you can also say there are a couple who can have a line put straight through them, hopefully simplifying the task for Barafundle.
Prior to his layoff this horse, who’s still only an eight year old, caught the eye when 10 lengths second to no less than Grands Crus on this track in November 2010, before scooting up six days later at Newbury.
He couldn’t land a blow in the 2011 Pertemps Final, but returned from the sidelines last month with a promising fourth to Long Walk Hurdle bound Trustan Times here on Betfair Chase day.
He’s won on Soft and been placed on Heavy, and besides that I would rarely hesitate to back a son of Flemensfirth over a staying trip on testing ground.
The handicapper gave this fella a chance when dropping him from 140 to 133 while he was off the track, and that could be decisive if he can rediscover his old zest.
A slice of Paddy Power’s 11/2 already has my name on it.
Meanwhile, down at Ascot they’ll be looking forward to what could be a cracking renewal of the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle at 3.10pm (live on Channel 4).
It’s difficult to rule out many of the 21 runners with confidence, but one who appeals strongly at a big price is the Nigel Twiston-Davies runner Double Ross.
Formerly with Iain Ferguson in Ireland this horse has done really well in 13 starts since joining his current stable, failing to make the frame on just four of those outings.
Proven time and time again on Soft ground the testing conditions should pose no problem, and this is a horse who appears to have improved after his summer break.
Two runs ago he bolted up off a mark of 130 in a 2m 5f handicap on the Sunday of Cheltenham’s Open meeting, and was then ridden more aggressively when only just failing from the front at Haydock six days later.
Similar tactics and testing ground could negate the drop in trip to two miles, and with his team in form and some luck in running it’s not hard to argue the 18/1 available each way with BetVictor looks very appetising.
Finally, it wouldn’t be Saturday without a Nicky Henderson winner live on tv, and the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle can go the way of a horse better known for his chasing exploits in Master Of The Hall.
With Big Buck’s out of the picture at least for the time being this is a race suddenly blown wide open, and though World Hurdle third Smad Place and the talented Reve De Sivola will have their fans, my hunch is it can pay to shop for the value and side with Henderson’s 8/1 shot.
Yes he has to prove he can do it over the smaller obstacles, but Master Of The Hall hails from a stable who can do little wrong, is unbeaten in two starts at Ascot, and crucially has his ideal surface underfoot.
What’s more, Master Of The Hall’s hurdles record reads two wins and a third from just three starts!
Like Bakbenscher he’s unbeaten on Heavy, and this is a horse who is a strong stayer and who has class in abundance.
The 8/1 available with firms such as Blue Square and William Hill looks a great bet.
Saturday’s best bets:
1.45 Haydock Park – Bet At Bluesq.com Handicap Hurdle – 6 Bakbenscher (each way) @ 10/1 (Bet365)
3.10 Ascot – The Ladbroke (Handicap Hurdle) – 8 Double Ross (each way) @ 18/1 (BetVictor)
3.25 Haydock Park – Blue Square Bet Handicap Hurdle – 1 Barafundle (win) @ 11/2 (Paddy Power)Posted 4 years, 9 months ago