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Monday, 29 February 2016

Leicestershire Open Hunters' Chase, 15:20, Leicester, Tuesday 1st March

It’s not too often that we have an opportunity for a midweek tilt at the ring, but the Leicestershire Open Hunters’ Chase (15:20) presents exactly that, with 17 runners set to face the starter.

Thirsk trainer Neil Mechie has only saddled six runners under rules during the last five seasons, but three of them have won so, despite being well into his dotage, Ockey De Neulliac is of obvious interest. The 14-year-old jumped well when winning the Ladies’ Open at the Yorkshire Area Point-to-Point Club’s opening meeting for the second year running in January and has won both of his completed starts over regulation fences in recent years. Of course, he’s not getting any younger and has plenty to find with a few of these on official ratings, but that’s likely to be reflected in his price and he comes into the race at the top of his game.

Nowurhurlin is a regular on the northern point-to-point scene and comes into the race on the back of a solid third in the Northern Area Point To Point Scottish Foxhunter Chase, over 3 miles 2½ furlongs, at Musselburgh in February. He’s another with plenty to find on official figures, but has suggested on his two most recent runs under rules that the drop back to 2 miles 6½ furlongs may bring about some improvement, so he’s another who could go well at generous odds.

Last, but not least, it’ll be interesting to see what the bookmakers make of Sophie Leech’s 11-year-old Midnight Appeal, who’s on a losing run of 17, but takes a major drop in class after contesting the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury, albeit as the 100/1 outsider of seven, last month. The Midnight Legend gelding has won at up to 3 miles, on going ranging from good to firm to heavy, but last entered the winners’ enclosure in November 2013, so it’s questionable how much ability he retains. He’s not obviously well treated by race conditions but, if he’s capable of anything like his old from, first time in a hunter chase might be the time to take a chance on him.

Selections: Leicester 15:20 Ockey De Neulliac, Nowurhurlin, Midnight Appeal

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