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Tuesday 21 February 2017

2.00 Ludlow, Wednesday, February 22

It’s not often a midweek maiden hurdle attracts our attention, but the Bitterley Point to Point 1st April Maiden Hurdle (2.00) at Ludlow on Wednesday has attracted 16 runners, many of whom have the potential to be significantly better than they have shown so far. With the leading bookmakers offering 9/1 bar the first four in the betting, we couldn’t resist a dabble at long odds.

The first one that takes our eye is Calling Des Blins (20/1), one of two runners trained by Dan Skelton. The daughter of Konig Turf, who has produced some useful from his first crop of 5-year-olds in 2017, showed signs of ability on both starts in bumpers for Harry Fry last season, but finished only eighth of nine, beaten 27 lengths, in an ordinary novice hurdle at Taunton in January on her debut for her new yard. A winner in France on her sole start as a 3-year-old, she is surely better than her rather dismal debut over hurdles and could go well at a decent price.

Our Delboy (33/1) has been well beaten on both starts so far, including in a similar race over course and distance four weeks ago and may simply need more time. However, he comes from an excellent family, and from a yard in excellent form, so it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if he was to reward patient handling with an improved performance on just his second start over obstacles.

Johanos (16/1) was placed on both starts in bumpers and far from disgraced when fifth of 10, beaten 17½ lengths, behind Air Force One at Taunton last month on his hurdling debut. The winner franked the form in no uncertain terms when winning the Les Ambassadeurs Casino Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last Saturday, off a handicap mark of 138 so, with trainer Nigel Hawke among the winners in the last week or so, Johanos looks one to take very seriously indeed.

Selections: Ludlow 2.00 Calling Des Blins (20/1 with bet365), Our Delboy (33/1 with Paddy Power and Betfair Sportsbook), Johanos (16/1 with bet365)

Tuesday 14 February 2017

RSA Novices’ Chase, Cheltenham, Wednesday, March 15

The RSA Novices’ Chase, run over 3 miles and 80 yards on the Old Course at Cheltenham, is just over four weeks away, so we thought it was time to highlight the chance of one that we fancy, at apparently generous odds, before the price evaporates. The horse in question is the progressive seven-year-old Singlefarmpayment, who can be backed at 33/1 with Betfred, Totesport, Betfair and 32Red, but is as short as 16/1 with bet365.

Listed by his trainer, Tom George, as one of his ‘five to follow’ for the 2016/17 season, the Milan gelding travelled strongly when winning a Class 2 novices’ chase over 3 miles 1½ furlongs on the New Course at Cheltenham in December, staying on well to beat Arpege D’Alene by 2½ lengths. The Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot and the Towton Novices’Chase at Wetherby – both Grade 2 events – were mooted as possible targets following the Cheltenham success, but connections opted to return to Prestbury Park for a Class 2 novices’ handicap chase over 2 miles 5 furlongs on the New Course in January.

Sent off 5/1 joint favourite, Singlefarmpayment was held up in rear by Adrian Heskin and was just beginning a forward move when More Buck’s fell right in from of him at the twelfth fence, bringing him down. Of course, it’s impossible to tell what might have happened, but Singlefarmpayment appeared to be travelling at least as well as anything at the time. Notwithstanding his latest mishap, he clearly likes Cheltenham, stays beyond 3 miles, has winning form on good, good to soft, soft and heavy going and remains open to significant improvement after just four starts over regulation fences. He steps up to the highest level for the first time, but could well be up to the task and, at his current odds, we don’t mind paying to find out.

Selection: Singlefarmpayment to win (33/1 with Betfred, Totesport, Betfair or 32Red)

Wednesday 1 February 2017

4.25 Towcester, Thursday, February 2

The Grimscote Handicap Hurdle (4.25) at Towcester on Thursday may not be as competitive as some of the weekend handicaps that constitute the ‘bread and butter’ of this column, but is nonetheless a lowly Class 5 affair, in which recent winning form is in short supply. Furthermore, although 2 miles 3 furlongs and 34 yards is hardly a marathon distance, the race is due to be run on a testing course on bottomless ground and could still develop into a war of attrition, which few survive.

With this in mind, we’ve tried to find one or two with stamina in abundance, who should be staying on when the others have cried enough. Thatchers Gold, for example, has troubled the judge just once in seven starts since winning a better race on soft going at Uttoxeter over two years ago, but at least we know he’s capable of winning a race and handling testing conditions, which is not something we can say for many of his rivals. His recent form is nothing special, but he drops into 0-100 company off a handicap mark 3lb lower than when last winning, so must merit consideration.

Frankly, most of these are poor or deteriorating, or both, but something has to win, so let’s row in with the lightly-raced six-year-old Scartare, who’s been well beaten at fancy prices on all six starts so far, but showed a glimmer of ability on his last outing, over 1 mile 7½ furlongs on this course seven weeks ago and may be capable of better on his handicap debut. His stamina needs to be taken on trust, as does his ability to handle heavy going, but a forward showing would hardly be huge surprise in a race ripe for a turn-up.

Selections: Towcester 4.25 Thatchers Gold, Scartare