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Wednesday’s evening fixtures brought forward to avoid England clash

Wednesday’s evening fixtures at Bath and Kempton have been switched to earlier starts to avoid clashing with England’s Euro 2020 semi-final against Denmark.

The crunch clash at Wembley kicks off at 8pm, with Bath initially scheduled to race until 8.35pm and Kempton’s last contest programmed for 8.50pm.

However, following applications from the owners of both tracks, Arena Racing Company and Jockey Club Racecourses respectively, both cards will now be completed before the game kicks off, with Bath’s last race at 7.35pm and Kempton’s closer at 7.45pm.

Harry Kane was England's hero in Rome on Saturday night
Harry Kane was England’s hero in Rome on Saturday night (Marco Iacobucci/PA)

A statement from the British Horseracing Authority said: “Having received applications from both the Jockey Club and Arena Racing Company, the BHA has approved the alteration of race times at both Kempton Park and Bath on Wednesday evening to avoid a clash with England’s Euro 2020 semi-final match against Denmark.

“We wish Gareth Southgate and the England team the best of luck.”

Fergal O’Brien celebrating maiden century of winners

Fergal O’Brien already has his mind set on a second century of winners next season, after reaching the three-figure landmark for the first time in the final week of the jumps campaign.

Fittingly, it was Oscar Rose who gave O’Brien that all-important 100th winner at Kempton on Monday evening, as the mare had opened O’Brien’s account from his new base at Ravenswell Farm, near Cheltenham, at Southwell in October 2019.

“One hundred winners in any season is pretty phenomenal, so the fact we lost two months (due to Covid-19 pandeminc) early doors as well makes it all the more special,” he said.

“It’s a great achievement by everyone in the yard. You need everyone to be pulling in the right direction and the last year and a half since we’ve been at Ravenswell we’ve had great people there.

“I put it all down to Ravenswell because it’s a fantastic place to train and we were very lucky to find it.

“It was a big gamble by my landlords Rupert and Nicki Lowe. They invested a lot of money in the facilities, but it’s paid dividends. It’s working very well. It’s a fantastic place to train and everyone likes being here.”

O’Brien recalled the day he bought Oscar Rose for £14,000 as a four-year-old at Doncaster in May 2015.

“We bought her as a store horse,” he went on.

“She was our very first runner out of Ravenswell Farm and our first winner from there. We followed the builders in. There were 10 stables up and she went there at the end of that August from a pre-training yard and then she ran at Southwell. Brief Ambition won the same day and he was our second runner.

Oscar Rose has been a star for Fergal O'Brien
Oscar Rose has been a star for Fergal O’Brien (Richard Sellers/PA)

“We hit the ground running and, touch wood, we’ve kept going forward ever since.

“We’ve just got to keep going on and reproduce next year. We have to do it the same again. We’re looking forward to that challenge.

“We’ve got to go back to the sales and buy some new horses and replace some of the ones that have done their job and need to move on to new homes. You can’t stand still in this job.

“We’re very privileged to be able to do what we do and I feel so lucky to be involved in jump racing.”

Switch Hitter on target in Plate prize

Switch Hitter was prominent throughout and held on with great determination to win the Virgin Bet Silver Plate Handicap Hurdle at Kempton.

Bryony Frost had Paul Nicholls’ lightly-raced six-year-old right up with a steady pace almost from the outset, alongside Vive Le Roi.

It proved another canny ride round this track from Frost as Switch Hitter saw off Breffniboy after the last to win by a neck at 11-2 – with favourite Nightboattoclyro having to settle for third, another five lengths back, unable to bridge the gap in the straight after being held up in pursuit of a four-timer this season.

Switch Hitter was returning from a near three-month break, having been well-beaten on his handicap debut over course and distance on Boxing Day.

He was winning for the second time in only five career starts under rules, in this competitive feature race.

The £22,000 contest was a consolation race for those runners that missed the cut at the Cheltenham Festival, and Nicholls was full of praise for the concept.

He said: “It’s brilliant that they have races like this, with nice prize money, for horses that weren’t able to go to Cheltenham.

“I can’t really say enough about the value of these consolation races – he was balloted out of the Coral Cup.

“He will make a lovely chaser next year. He’s a point to point winner and will jump fences.

“There’s a novice chase here in May that could be on the agenda as he wants good ground, but he could firstly go to Sandown where there’s a two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle on the last day of the season.”

Pasvolsky keeps Chris Gordon smiling at Kempton

Chris Gordon completed an across-the-card double when Pasvolsky stayed on too strongly for Straw Fan Jack in the Virgin Bet Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton.

Gordon was elated that minutes earlier his Reallyradical had provided 93-year-old owner Betty Chantler with her first ever winner in the handicap chase at Fontwell.

He said: “While I’m delighted that Pasvolsky has won here, what can you say about Betty, experiencing her first winner into her nineties?

“We came here thinking we might be in the four, because it looked a competitive little race – but the way he’s won, I have to hope he hasn’t blown his handicap mark.

“The plan was to go on for the Final at Sandown, but we’ll have to see.”

The Virgin Bet Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase turned into a battle between the only two hold-up horses in the field, with Onthefrontfoot beating fellow 6-1 shot Eskendash by a length under Jonathan Burke.

The jockey was full of praise for the Donald McCain-trained winner, and said: “He can operate, and it was quite a thrill once he’d negotiated the first three.

“He’s a horse that knows his limits, and his run at Ludlow was a massive education for him. He enjoys his racing and jumping, and is a typical Donald McCain type.”

Domaine De L’Isle demonstrated how much he has benefited from an operation by wind specialist Ben Brain when he landed the Virgin Bet Handicap Chase for Sean Curran.

Since completing a hat-trick over fences last season, the 14-1 winner had spent his time in racing’s wilderness – but under an inspired ride from Kevin Brogan, he came through to take charge over the final two fences.

Splitting Manofthemountain and Falco Blitz two out, the eight-year-old stayed on strongly to score by five lengths from the former – with Smarty Wild the same distance back in third.

Curran said: “I’d heard a lot of good things about Kevin, and he’s given the horse a super ride. Before today, he’d never met me or even seen me.

“I came here hoping for a competitive run, but the speed they went turned it into more of a two-and-three-quarter-miler, and when I saw where he was turning in, I knew he would pick them up.”

Looking back to his winner’s voyage on a downward spiral this season, Curran added: “He couldn’t lay up with them in the Paddy Power, and on his latest start David Bass said his wind was rotten.

“It’s thanks to Ben Brain, who operated and did a great job, and also the part played by my own vet Peter Thurloe. It really has been an all-round team effort getting him back.”

Future plans for Domaine De L’Isle are fluid, and Curran said: “All I was thinking about was getting him through today. I need to go home and have a look at the programme book.”

The course of the Virgin Bet Free Bets For Winners Novices’ Hurdle changed dramatically when Get Prepared took a horrible fall three out and brought down Press Your Luck.

That left Jeremy Pass in front, chased by Champagne Mystery (5-2) – but after the former hung left on the run-in, his rival took command to score by a length-and-a-quarter for Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville.

The winning jockey said: “He was on a bit of a recovery mission after his fall in the Cheltenham race (Caspian Caviar Gold Cup).

“He showed the ability is there, and knuckled down all the way to the line. His jumping was amiss over fences, but it will come back.”

The Virgin Bet Free Bets For Winners Handicap Chase saw Peur De Rien foil a gamble on Big Difference.

The Oliver Sherwood-trained winner gave Burke the second leg of a double.

Explaining why the 11-2 winner has an “up and down” profile, Sherwood said: “He was a Tim Syder horse, but had breathing issues – and Ben Brain did an operation I’d never heard of, which was all or nothing, and it paid off.

“This horse panics when things go wrong, and can go from hero to zero.

“But he’s a joy to have anything to do with, and I think Tim might take him back now. Jonny said he needs three miles, and would be just as happy on bigger tracks.”

Marracudja completes Kempton walkover

Marracudja secured the easiest £15,640 of his life in the opening Virgin Bet Silver Bowl Handicap Chase at Kempton.

The extended two-and-a-half-mile heat was conceived as a consolation race for those balloted out of Cheltenham handicaps, but a reduced number of entries at this year’s Festival meant only Marracudja was eliminated at the meeting.

Dan Skelton’s 10-year-old was therefore the horse to qualify for the race, with Bridget Andrews getting the leg up for his required canter down the course.

Marracudja had only to walk to the furlong marker and canter back past the winning post to take home the first prize.

Andrews said: “I’ve only ever once before been involved in a walkover, which was at Warwick, and it’s a strange situation when you go to the furlong marker and canter back over the line – especially because this horse was very full of himself and he’s not the easiest.”

Kempton clerk of the course Barney Clifford added: “Since I started clerking here in 1999, this is only the second walkover. The first was in 2002 – it was a chase on the October Sunday meeting brought about by fast ground.”

Marracudja had not secured a first prize since December 2019, when he was an impressive winner of the Castleford Chase at Wetherby, before going on to finish third in the Grade One Clarence House Chase a month later.

My Way Or The Highway In Kempton Handicap

Any live racing on Saturday is going to be an anti-climax after Cheltenham but there is still some pretty good racing on offer. The Midlands Grand National will be the big betting heat of the day but as usual it’s going to be a guessing game as to which horses will last out stamina wise. I’m going to play it slightly safe this week and look at the 3.15 at Kempton (also live on ITV4), a class 3 handicap chase over two and a half miles.

As usual, all the information and tools used below are available with Geegeez Gold – click here to get your first 30 days of Gold for just £1.

Pace

It’s fairly widely known that the Kempton chase course tends to favour those ridden nearer the pace, but how much of an advantage is there?

The majority of winners here are ridden prominently, as are the majority of the placed horses. However it is front runners who have the best win percentage. Leaders have achieved a win percentage of 20%, just ahead of prominent racers who have a 16.13% win ratio. These figures fall steadily the further back in the field a horse is ridden and it’s a pretty similar story as far as the place percentages go, although mid division performs slightly better than prominent this time around. Front runners once again have the best performance and hold up performers once again have the worst performance.

Both front runners and prominent racers have been profitable to back blindly for win purposes in these conditions, prominent racers were more profitable than front runners though with an impressive win PL of 26.13. Front runners have the best IV though of 1.7, ahead of 1.37 for prominent, 1 for mid division and 0.4 for held up.

The above data suggests that in general here, the closer you are to the pace the better. Racing prominently or even in mid division isn’t a huge negative but being held up should certainly be considered a negative, it’s going to be difficult to come from off the pace unless they go really hard up front here.

Pace Map

Here is the pace map for this race, courtesy of the pace tab:

It’s possible we’ll see a contested speed here with Mellow Ben and Princeton Royale likely to dispute the early pace. The former has led on his last three starts, all in bigger fields than this, so it seems highly likely he’ll be sent to the front early. The latter had led on all five starts this season until last time out where he tracked the pace.

It’s also worth noting that My Way has gone from the front on four of his last five starts. He was held up three starts ago which is why the above pace map only considers him to be a prominent racer (the pace map takes an average of the number of runs selected, in this case it is four runs).

So for a relatively small field there is a fair amount of pace in there. It won’t necessarily mean there is a burn up but it should ensure nothing gets a very easy lead.

If it does prove difficult to come from off the pace again here that could inconvenience Domaine De L’Isle and also the well fancied Smarty Wild who are likely to be the most patiently ridden pair in the field.

Instant Expert

Let’s take a look at the Instant Expert in these sorts of conditions for win purposes.

Sorted by odds order, we see that the first few runners in the betting have a a fairly solid profile, from a superficial look. Outsiders Manofthemountain and Domaine De L’Isle also have data going for them.

Manofthemountain has a strong record on good ground, his only chase defeat coming when 4th at Cheltenham over further (the 3rd won his next two starts). The distance is a question mark for him though, as is his well being after being pulled up last time out.

Domaine De L’Isle seems better over this trip than further and has a good record in this sort of field size but he seems better on slightly slower ground and his form this season isn’t up to it.

My Way and Smarty Wild all have nice profiles in Instant Expert it seems. My Way has won over course and distance on good ground which certainly scores him some points. Smarty Wild is another course and distance winner which gives him some advantages in Instant Expert. He’s slightly unproven on this ground but four of his five wins came on good to soft ground so it’s unlikely he’ll be inconvenienced by good, good to soft in places.

The Runners

A quick rundown of each runner’s chances, sorted by from shortest price to longest price according to the early betting.

My Way

Made all over course and distance last time out with first time blinkers added to his usual tongue tie. He’s been pretty consistent throughout the season with generally more aggressive riding tactics employed this season. His two wins have come on his two runs that have come close to this distance on good ground, his defeats have come over 3m+ or on heavy ground.

The team of Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost have an excellent record at Kempton in the past five years. They have a 33.33% strike rate and a place percentage of 60%.

He’s got a good record on this ground at this sort of trip, he took well to the blinkers last time and it’s possible a 9lb rise underestimates him if connections have finally found the key.

Falco Blitz

Another comfortable last time out winner but he’s previously failed to win here at Kempton in two starts. He may have finished 2nd here two starts ago and he has won right handed in the past but given he has often jumped left it’s debateable if this course suits him that well.

The winner of the race in which he was 2nd at Kempton almost went in again on his next start and he’s definitely amongst the best handicapped runners in this race with plenty of improvement left to come but that tendency to jump left could leave him vulnerable here.

Smarty Wild

Smarty Wild is fairly versatile regarding underfoot conditions but possible doesn’t enjoy extremes too much. He won over course and distance two starts ago and the 3rd came out and won a handicap on his next run. He went up 7lbs for that win but has been dropped 1lb after finishing 5th last time out.

He’s often patiently ridden, although was sensibly given a more prominent ride when winning here. If he’s held up again he could find himself poorly placed, even with a decent pace on offer.

Mellow Ben

A good ground lover (all four career wins have come on good ground) who has done most of his winning at Fontwell. He has good form elsewhere though, his run three starts ago at Newbury would give him an excellent chance here.

The 2nd and 9th won next time out, the 10th and 11th won shortly after and the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 8th all finished at least 4th next time out. That’s a pretty strong piece of form in the context of this race. He’s more exposed than the market leaders and hasn’t run nearly as well on his most recent couple of starts but those runs both came over 3m so this drop in trip should suit. A record of zero wins from six career runs at Kempton doesn’t inspire confidence though.

Vinnie The Hoddie

A faster ground specialist whose only two wins came on good and he finished 2nd on his only run on good to firm. His record when completing on good or faster reads 12142. He wasn’t in good form last time out but that was on good to soft in a listed handicap and this represents a drop in grade.

His previous run is more relevant in the context of this race (a class 3 handicap on good ground) and although he ran respectably, he’ll probably need to improve to win this.

He’s been off 121 days which is a risk but his trainer Oliver Sherwood does have a good record with fresh runners in handicaps. An A/E of 1.19 with handicap runners off a 60+ day break and an IV of 1.89 is very respectable.

Whatswrongwithyou

Ran respectably over course and distance a year ago but has only run once since and that was when unseating at the first in November. A further 113 day absence is definitely a concern. The majority of his wins have come on softer ground which is another worry and he’s clearly the stable second string behind Falco Blitz so enough to put most off him.

Manofthemountain

All his 4 wins have come over further and this drop in trip is perhaps an attempt to spark some life into him after he was pulled up last time out at Newbury. He was 4th in a good race at Cheltenham in October but he was beaten 53 lengths. If he could return to his Bangor form from September he’d have a chance but he’s still 5lbs higher and looks opposable.

Domaine De L’Isle

Hasn’t run well since January 2020 but has been given a wind op after his last run so there is a chance we see a better performance here. Just over a year ago he was completing a hat trick and he’s 3lbs lower here so isn’t handicapped out of things. His three wins in the UK have come on soft or heavy and his well-being has to be taken on trust.

Princeton Royale

The complete outsider and easy to understand why. He’s beaten three rivals home in his last four starts. Eight of his nine wins have come on good ground so this will clearly suit but his poor run has included runs on better ground so it hasn’t just been the ground bothering him. Difficult to see him bouncing back in this.

Verdict

An open contest and one in which Mellow Ben and Vinnie The Hoddie can outrun their odds without winning.

Preference though, unoriginally, is for MY WAY who probably isn’t quite the most progressive in the field but he’s one of a few that could be ahead of their mark still and he seems to have absolutely everything in his favour here. Both his wins have come when making all so other pace options are a slight concern but he’s finished runner up with contrasting rides so can run well however he is ridden.

Hollie Doyle hits fabulous five-timer at Kempton

Hollie Doyle dominated at Kempton on Wednesday evening as she rode a spectacular 2,522-1 five-timer.

It was the second five-timer of Doyle’s career after she became the first female rider to complete the feat at Windsor last August, but the jockey also put an extra feather in her cap by landing five successive races at the Sunbury venue.

She kicked off with victory aboard Tony Carroll’s Della Mare (15-8 favourite) in the second division of the Unibet New Instant Roulette Classified Stakes, before triumphing aboard the Archie Watson-trained Laos (7-2) in the Unibet Casino Deposit £10 Get £40 Bonus Novice Stakes.

Highland Avenue (4-9 favourite) then provided the highlight of her five-timer with an impressive verdict in the ‘Road To The Kentucky Derby’ Conditions Stakes for trainer Charlie Appleby.

Doyle then steered home two more winners for Carroll in Sir Titan (14-1) in the Try Our New Price Boosts At Unibet Handicap and Madrinho (8-1), who claimed the Try Our New Super Boosts At Unibet Handicap before teaming up with favourite Chinese Whisperer in the closing event.

Sent off a 5-2 chance, Chinese Whisperer looked like he could help Doyle set a new benchmark as he was still in front in the final furlong, but Merweb swept through on the inside as Doyle’s mount dropped back to fourth – foiling her bid for another slice of history.

Doyle said: “It’s amazing. I thought I had a few good chances on paper tonight, I thought Laos would run well and he did it really nicely.

“Then I had Highland Avenue for Charlie Appleby – he’s a beautifully-bred horse and I think he has got a big future ahead of him.

“It’s great to do this so early in the year. It’s all about building on last year really – I’ll just keep trying my best and doing as well as I can.”

Doyle is currently second behind Richard Kingscote in the all-weather jockeys’ championship and she added: “I think I’ve got quite a gap to make up with Richard, but I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing and see what happens.”

Clondaw Castle gives Tom George another big Kempton success

Tom George landed the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton for a third time as Clondaw Castle relished the step up in trip.

Having his first try over three miles, the nine-year-old was being rewarded for a string of consistent efforts.

Fourth in the Arkle as a novice, he was second in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree earlier in the season.

George had been keen to step him up in trip – but must have wondered if he had done the right thing when Richard Johnson and Mellow Ben set a brisk early gallop that looked sure to find out any rivals with stamina doubts.

With half a mile to run the pace was beginning to falter, but Jamie Moore made sure that was not for long as he took over on Erick Le Rouge.

He led at the second-last but Johnathan Burke had still to ask for everything on Clondaw Castle (17-2) who ran right through the line, coming away to win well by two lengths.

Last year’s winner Mister Malarky was third, with Romain De Senam fourth. George enjoyed earlier successes in the race through the popular Nacarat, who struck twice, in 2009 and 2012.

George said: “I’m delighted. Jonathan Burke said they were going so quick that he could not have been any closer early on. They went a fair gallop around there. He had to sit tight and wait his moment, but once they started coming back to him, he knew he was always under control.

“He was probably a bit unlucky in the Peterborough Chase when he made a mistake or was almost brought down coming down the hill. The ground was very soft that day, but this is his ground today – a flat track over three miles, this is his optimum conditions.

“He was off 154 today, so that puts him into graded class which I’ve always thought he was. He is in at Cheltenham, but in the back of my mind, I’ve always had it that he will go from here (Kempton) to Aintree for the Bowl.

“He is capable of doing what Nacarat did, to be honest It depends what else turns up, but he will be a fresh horse. Nacarat won this and then won the Grade One there. He will keep on improving over three miles and has had a good long break before this. He should be off a mark of 160 by then and I think handicaps are out of the equation.

“I think the key is a nice, flat track and quick ground. I think he was a bit unfortunate not to have won the Old Roan Chase first time out this season when he was probably out in front a bit too long. He is still learning and hasn’t had that much racing.”

He added: “This race has been a special race for us. Nacarat won it twice and Double Shuffle was second in it twice, so we’ve had some good days here. It is important they keep the track as well, as you need good tracks where you get better ground, rather than keep going around on deep ground all winter.

“The season has been a frustrating one. There has been about five or six different factors and you put them all together and it becomes quite a big thing – a lot of bad ground and badly handicapped horses. I haven’t been concerned and we’ve sat tight.

Tom George has an affinity for Kempton
Tom George has an affinity for Kempton (Simon Cooper/PA)

“I’ve had two winners today and a big winner at Warwick on Friday, so the big thing is to sit tight when things aren’t happening and wait your moment, and hopefully everyone will be rewarded. From now until May is probably the biggest part of the season with lots of good races everywhere.

“I have got a lot of young horses and there is plenty to look forward to.”

The Colin Tizzard-trained Mister Malarky, meanwhile, looks set to take his chance in the Grand National.

Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said: “He has run well today. With a lot of weight on his back, he has run a blinder. He has bounced off the ground. Harry (Kimber) got a really good start on him, which was important, and then he’s run his race. So, I’m pleased with him.

“I think we will go to the Grand National after that. I think it will convince everybody to have a crack at it on a bit of spring ground. We’ll probably swerve Cheltenham and go straight there.”

Cape Gentleman conquers Dovecote rivals

Emmet Mullins will ponder his Cheltenham Festival options for Cape Gentleman, after he showed plenty of grit in the hands of Jonjo O’Neill Jr to battle back and deny Calico in a thrilling finish to the Sky Bet Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton.

The five-year-old, who landed the Irish Cesarewitch on his last Flat outing before making a winning hurdling debut at Punchestown, blotted his copybook on his second outing in this sphere when pulled up over two and three-quarter miles at Leopardstown earlier this month.

However, dropping back to two miles suited the Champs Elysees gelding, who injected some speed into a modest early pace and went to the front with over half a mile to run.

Calico loomed large before a tardy leap at the penultimate flight briefly halted his momentum. However, he jumped the last better and headed Cape Gentleman (5-2) on the run to the line, only for O’Neill Jr’s mount to find extra reserves.

His stamina kicked in and the partnership ultimately denied Calico by three-quarters of a length. Lunar Sovereign was a further seven and a half lengths back in third.

The winning jockey said: “I thought Harry (Cobden) might just give me a go at the last as Calico has a lot of Flat form, but I didn’t want to be a sitting duck. He has battled hard. He won a Cheltenham trial today and he’d be entitled to go to Cheltenham.

“It was a very good training performance. He has only had the two runs, but he ran poorly the last day, so that’s why he dropped back in trip, which helped him.

“He loved the (good) ground and was very straightforward today. He battled hard after the last and I’m delighted with his performance.

“Emmet said he was in good form at home. I suppose they can have blips every now and again and the considerable drop back in trip definitely helped.

“As for Cheltenham, I’m not sure he is in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but he is in the Albert Bartlett and the Ballymore, and it looks like the Ballymore would be an obvious one.”

Pendil domination continues for Nicholls

The Close Brothers Pendil Novices’ Chase at Kempton has been the Paul Nicholls benefit over the years, having been won by the likes of top-class chasers Frodon and Cyrname.

This renewal was no exception, as Tamaroc Du Mathan gave the master trainer an 11th success in the extended two-and-a-half-mile event.

The six-year-old, who scored at Wincanton on his chasing bow in November before chasing home Shishkin in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase in December, returned to Kempton to go one better.

The four-runner event may not have been the strongest renewal, but the even-money favourite never looked in any danger once Harry Cobden asked him to quicken off a steady pace from the final turn.

Though jumping overly big at the last two, he showed plenty of zest and was not stopping at the line, having three and three-quarter lengths to spare from Ga Law, with Coole Cody, who helped set the pace, fading into third, a further 12 lengths back.

While he holds an entry in the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival, Nicholls is eyeing Aintree, feeling that he lacked a little experience.

Nichols said: “I’m very pleased. We were hopeful that was the right for him. It was the first time he’s won over two and a half (miles), but he got the trip nicely, jumps well and it is good ground. Perfect.

“He has plenty of scope and he surprised Harry (at the last). He came out of his hands. He thought he’d probably get in a bit closer, but it shows he had plenty of energy left. That’s why he’s a novice. It was only his third run over fences and he is still learning. He is so full of enthusiasm, but he has just got to get his act together a bit, but it is just one of those things.

“I suspect he will go to Aintree for the two-and-a-half-mile novice chase or at Ayr the week after for the Future Champions Novices’ Chase over two and a half. I don’t see him going to Cheltenham.”

The Ditcheat handler added: “This was always the perfect race to aim him for. There was nothing else to run him in, really. Those two races (at Aintree and Ayr) would be ideal for him and we will step up in class next year. He’s not exactly well handicapped.

“I think this fella could progress. He is the sort of horse who you’d definitely look at for the likes of the Silviniaco Conte Chase next year over two and half. He’s a young horse and could progress. If you have good horses below the radar that won’t necessarily be going to Cheltenham, then this is a great race for those type of horses.

“I could have run Hitman today if the ground had been a lot easier, but I was worried the ground might have been a bit too fast for him – but this race slots in for those type of horses who are not going to run at Cheltenham.”

Hometown hero for Edmunds and Gethings

The Cheltenham Festival may be on the lips of every racing fan at present, but jockey Ciaran Gethings and trainer Stuart Edmunds are looking a little further ahead to Aintree’s Grand National meeting, after Hometown Boy took the Close Brothers Asset Finance Handicap Hurdle at Kempton with plenty to spare.

Making his seasonal debut after 350 days on the sidelines, the six-year-old was always up with the pace and made stealthy progress turning in before being asked to inject the pace with half a mile to run.

His hurdling was efficient and a good leap at the last two saw the 11-1 shot power clear of Ecco to draw three and a quarter lengths clear, with 11-4 favourite Gunsight Ridge struggling to get involved, a similar distance back in third.

Connections have had to be patient with Hometown Boy, who broke his duck over hurdles at Market Rasen in December 2019, and while Gethings was concerned about the lack of a run, his fears were for nought.

Gethings said: “We have always liked him from the word go. He hadn’t run for 11 months and while we thought he might not lack fitness, he might run a bit fresh and a bit keen which he can be.

“Looking back on his form, we really fancied him. Stuart’s horse are a little bit in and out this season and it is hard to get a gauge on them, but he felt great today and he did it well.

“He wasn’t beaten far by Espoir De Romay at Warwick (in November 2019) so the form is there.

“He was ready to run at the Chepstow meeting at the start of the year, but it was just too quick for him. He then had a little setback and he is very hard on himself. But he is back on track and will make a lovely chaser.”

He added: “He has a very big stride for not a big horse and jumps fantastic. I think stepping up to three miles will suit him as well. He has a couple of options at Aintree and will go for either a two-and-a-half-miler on the first day, or the three-miler on Grand National Day.

“Aintree will be right up his street.”

Paul Nicholls claimed a double on the card after the victory of Tamaroc Du Mathan in the Pendil Novices’ Chase, when My Way (4-1 joint-favourite) produced a game front-running display to take the Close Brothers Motor Finance Handicap Chase in the hands of Harry Cobden.

The seven-year-old had landed a maiden hurdle at Stratford in October, but had been luckless in 12 previous starts over fences.

Yet the fitting of first-time blinkers appeared to galvanise Nicholls’ inmate, who had previously been beaten over 14 lengths at Chepstow, and he led his nine rivals a merry dance, despite tiring near the line, as Awake At Midnight closed to within two and a quarter lengths under Richard Johnson.

Nicholls felt a sense of relief afterwards, and said: “He has been a long time winning a chase. He has threatened to, but I thought the fitting of blinkers might concentrate his mind today.

“A flat track over two and a half miles was all right for him today. If we had not won with him today, we would really have been in trouble. Thirteenth time lucky, I guess!

“He is actually a novice over fences, so you could perhaps run him in novice handicap later on, but my immediate plan was to put him in at Cheltenham – which, with his rating, he is bound to get balloted out – and then come here to Kempton on the Saturday for the consolation chase over two-mile-five.

“I only entered him at Cheltenham to get balloted out and then come here, so that would be a good plan. He would not want to be running at Cheltenham in his own right.”

George duo out to enhance yard’s proud record in Kempton’s big handicap

Tom George has two lively contenders in Clondaw Castle and Double Shuffle as he bids to continue his fine record in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton.

Nacarat won for George in 2009 and 2012, and he has gone close on other occasions – most notably with Double Shuffle, who was runner-up in 2017 and 2019.

The Cotswolds trainer does not usually run two horses in the same race but is going against the grain on Saturday, because both deserve their chance.

“It’s a race we’ve done well in,” he said.

Trainer Tom George has a fine record in Saturday's feature handicap at Kempton
Trainer Tom George has a fine record in Saturday’s feature handicap at Kempton (PA)

“Those two horses both need to take their chance in it, although it’s not ideal running them against each other.”

This will be Double Shuffle’s fourth run in the race in its various guises, at a venue where he was also second in the King George VI Chase in 2017 and a course-and-distance winner just last month.

“Double Shuffle loves the track and likes good ground, and has run well in it before,” added George.

“He’s been struggling over the last year running on the wrong tracks on the wrong ground, wrong everything – and the handicapper hasn’t given him a chance – but I like to think he retains plenty of ability, and he’s in good form.

George believes the step up to three miles will suit Clondaw Castle.

“He’s ready for a step up to three miles. It’s what we’ve been waiting for, and this is a good opportunity to do it,” he said.

“He’s got plenty of pace. He was placed in an Arkle, but at the end of the day he’s going to be a stayer, so we should hopefully see plenty of progression stepped up in trip.”

Cap Du Nord is among the opposition, having run third in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster – where his trainer Christian Williams felt the three miles in testing conditions just found him out.

“I think the ground will be perfect, and he’s acted round the track before,” said Williams.

Cap Du Nord is expected to be suited by the ground and trip at Kempton
Cap Du Nord is expected to be suited by the ground and trip at Kempton (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He made a mistake at the second last at Doncaster, but I still think he’d have finished third – I just think he got outstayed by two more experienced horses, who were proper stayers.

“I think he jumped and travelled well in the race, but the ground just zapped him. It was great to be involved in a race like that and finish in the first four.

“This has been the plan since.”

Connections of Slate House are hoping the nine-year-old can return to the form that brought him Grade One success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase over the course and distance on Boxing Day 2019.

“He is a Grade One winner around the track,” said Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father Colin.

“He ran a nice race over two and a half at Wincanton last time, and that just put him right for it hopefully. It is a competitive race – but I think it is the right race for him.

“Things haven’t quite gone to plan for him this season – and although he didn’t run badly at Wincanton last time, he is not the easiest horse to keep right, so we were a bit held up in the early part of the season with him.

“His next target has been this since Wincanton – and although it was probably a couple of weeks longer than what he needed, it was the right race to aim for.”

Black Corton bids to go one better than 12 months ago, when he was beaten two lengths by the Tizzard-trained Mister Malarkey.

“I’ve been waiting for this better ground for Black Corton – who had been working nicely with Secret Investor, gutsy winner of the Denman Chase last Sunday,” trainer Paul Nicholls told Betfair.

Black Corton will have to defy top weight in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase
Black Corton will have to defy top weight in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase (Julian Herbert/PA)

“I’ve left him alone in the worst of the winter, while the going was heavy everywhere, and he is ready to go again.

“Although Black Corton doesn’t get any help from the handicapper, it’s encouraging that he ran tidily in this race last year and always goes well fresh. He is ready and could go very well.”

The Ditcheat handler also saddles Southfield Stone, who was second in the Grade Two novice chase on this card last year.

“He won an all-weather bumper at Kempton the other day, has also won over hurdles at the track and all his best performances have come on good ground,” he said.

“As he has never run over more than two and a half miles, he is now stepping into the unknown over three miles for the first time. But I’ve always felt he would stay this far, particularly round this flat track on good ground. So there are plenty of plus points.”

Alan King is hoping Talkischeap can confirm his place in the Randox Grand National.

“I’ve got to run him – he hasn’t had a chase run since this race last year,” said the Barbury Castle handler.

“He needs a bit of practice, and we need to run him in this to qualify for Aintree.

“I think whatever he does he’ll improve for it. He has had the two runs on the all-weather – and they have certainly brought him on – but I’m just hoping for a good, solid run and then we can head towards Aintree.”

Chris Gordon expects Mellow Ben to run a good race
Chris Gordon expects Mellow Ben to run a good race (John Walton/PA)

Mellow Ben has run creditably in defeat several times at Kempton, and his trainer Chris Gordon believes that will stand him in good stead.

“He seems in very good form at home,” he said.

“He’s got some good form round there to make a good case for him.

“I think the ground will suit him. I’m looking forward to him running a decent race.”

Ga Law in ‘great order’ for Pendil assignment

Jamie Snowden is in optimistic mood for Ga Law’s return to action in the Close Brothers Pendil Novices’ Chase at Kempton.

The Sinndar gelding provided his trainer with a first victory at graded level when readily beating two rivals in the “Rising Stars” Novices’ Chase at Wincanton in November.

A drop in trip and a rise in class for the Grade One Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown a month later ultimately proved too much, but Snowden feels his stable star has a good chance of getting back on the winning trail in Saturday’s Grade Two contest.

“He had a bit of a break and a quiet month after the Henry VIII, but he’s back in and in top shape and goes to Kempton in great order,” said the Lambourn-based trainer.

“He’s obviously got to carry a 5lb penalty for his Grade Two win at Wincanton, and his weight-for-age is diminishing as the months progress, so he’s got to keep improving – but he’s in good order, and we go there with every chance.

“Kempton is not too dissimilar to Wincanton, and I think going back up to two-and-a-half will help.

“In the Henry VIII he was just taken off his feet slightly, but he was only beaten just over 10 lengths and wasn’t disgraced.”

Ga Law’s biggest threat appears to be the Paul Nicholls-trained Tamaroc Du Mathan, last seen filling the runner-up spot behind Arkle favourite Shishkin in the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase at Kempton in December.

Nicholls told Betfair: “He made quite an impression on his chasing debut at Wincanton, where he jumped for fun and readily pulled clear in the closing stages.

“I thought he then ran really well when runner up to Shishkin at Kempton over Christmas. I’ve been waiting for better ground for Tamaroc Du Mathan ever since, and everything looks set for another big run from him.”

Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Coole Cody (Evan Williams) and Son Of Camas (Nicky Henderson) are the other hopefuls.

Nicholls also has a leading contender for the Sky Bet Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle, in the hat-trick seeking Atholl Street.

The Trevor Hemmings-owned six-year-old has earned the step up to Grade Two level, following a pair of facile wins at Taunton.

“He is another of mine that loves decent ground, so I have saved him for this race since he hacked up at Taunton early in December,” Nicholls added.

“That was his second impressive win at the Somerset track, and he fully deserves a step up in class.

“While he still holds an entry in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, a good run at Kempton is more likely to book his ticket for Aintree.”

Chief among Atholl Street’s rivals is Calico, who is trained by Nicholls’ former assistant Dan Skelton.

A high-class performer on the Flat in Germany, the five-year-old made a successful hurdling debut for his new connections at Ludlow.

Skelton said: “I’m really happy with him and I think the track will suit him.

“He has got high-class form on the Flat. He should be able to go at the pace they are likely to go in this race.

“It is a big step from his win at Ludlow, but I feel he can compete at this level – and he has performed well on better ground in the past.”

Emmet Mullins saddles Irish Cesarewitch winner Cape Gentleman, who needs to bounce back from a disappointing effort at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Alan King is hoping Son Of Red can earn himself a shot at the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.

“I don’t know whether he’ll be up to this, but he needs a third run to qualify for the Fred Winter (Boodles),” said the Barbury Castle trainer.

“He has to have a third run by Sunday, so that’s why he’s running.

“I think he’s done well for his break. Whether he’s quite up to this level, I don’t know, but we have to go somewhere with him.”

Lunar Sovereign (Fergal O’Brien), Mackenberg (Donald McCain) and Pyramid Place (Milton Harris) complete the field.

Tritonic aiming to enhance Triumph Hurdle claims at Kempton

Royal Ascot runner-up Tritonic bids to earn himself a ticket to the Cheltenham Festival with victory in the Close Brothers Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday.

The son of Sea The Moon was beaten just half a length by Highland Chief in the Golden Gates Handicap at the showpiece meeting in June, before going on to run at Listed and Group-race level.

Having been gelded during the autumn, Tritonic made a successful start to his jumping career at Ascot last month and will be a hot favourite to follow up in Grade Two company this weekend.

“We’ve been very happy with him and everything has gone well since Ascot. He’s worked away well and schooled well,” said King.

“He’ll learn plenty again on Saturday. This isn’t the be-all and end-all – it’s to hopefully get him spot-on for Cheltenham.

“It will be a sharp test for him.”

The Barbury Castle handler has saddled four previous winners of the Adonis, with his 2005 scorer Penzance going on to strike Festival gold in the JCB Triumph Hurdle the following month.

At a general 8-1, Tritonic is the shortest-priced British-trained runner in the ante-post market for this year’s Triumph.

Alan King has high hopes for Tritonic
Alan King has high hopes for Tritonic (David Davies/PA)

King added: “I’ve trained him totally different to the others, to be honest, in that the others all started much earlier over hurdles.

“This horse had a proper holiday at the end of the last Flat season.

“He’s the best of them on his Flat mark by some way, but they all came into this race with a fair bit more experience than he’s got.”

Tritonic renews rivalry with the Gary Moore-trained Casa Loupi, who was only a length behind when runner-up at Ascot last month.

Moore said: “He gave a good account of himself on his first run over hurdles. I don’t think it will be quite so easy this time. I think he got an easy lead.

“He’s come out of it very well. Whether he’ll come on or not, I don’t know. He was pretty fit from the Flat, so I don’t think there’s a lot of improvement fitness wise.

“Whether a bit sharper track will suit him, we’ll see.”

Jane Williams saddles Honneur D’Ajonc, while dual winner Margaret’s Legacy is an interesting contender from France and Paso Doble makes his jumping bow for Paul Nicholls.

Paso Doble makes his debut for Paul Nicholls
Paso Doble makes his debut for Paul Nicholls (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“He is a promising recruit from Ireland, where he won twice on the Flat for Jim Bolger as a three-year-old,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“I’ve given him a bit of time since he was gelded and he may well be one for the future.

“To find out for sure, we are are going down the route we took with Zarkandar in this race some years ago.

“If Paso Doble happens to win at Kempton, then he will head for the Triumph at Cheltenham. If he doesn’t, then we will keep him for next season.”

Full steam ahead for Cap Du Nord and Kempton

It is “all systems go” for Cap Du Nord ahead of the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

A winner at Newbury earlier this season, the eight-year-old has subsequently chased home possible Gold Cup contender Royale Pagaille at Kempton over Christmas and then finished a creditable third in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.

Trainer Christian Williams feels conditions back at Kempton will suit him much better this weekend and he is excited to be running in a major handicap with a favourite’s chance.

“It’s all systems go and we’re excited. Better ground could be the key to him, we’ll see this weekend,” said Williams.

“We took him to Cheltenham (on Monday) with Potters Corner for a school over the cross-country fences and he went well. It will be a quiet week now before Kempton.”

Reflecting on his Doncaster effort in soft ground, Williams said: “We probably could have gone for an easier race somewhere, but we wanted to be involved in a real nice race.

“We’re up to 142 now so we’ve got to go for the nice races, but it’s great to be involved in them. I could probably find a race midweek that he could go and win, but we want to be involved on the big days as it helps raise the profile of the yard.

“It’s good experience for Jack (Tudor) to be riding in these types of races.”