A wonderful days racing on Saturday with Champion Hurdler Epatante now a best price 7/4 with Boylesports to follow up at Cheltenham in the spring. Her change of gear going to the last was electric in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle although she didn’t beat a great deal with hold up performer Sceau Royal left in the lead at the second following the antics of Not So Sleepy. Ribble Valley was given a poor ride on ground faster than ideal and he will be difficult to place going forward.
Cloth Cap’s fencing was sensational when doing us a favour at Newbury in the Ladbrokes Trophy and he is now 25/1 with BetVictor to give owner Trevor Hemmings a fourth Grand National success following the wins of Hedgehunter (2005), Ballabriggs (2011) and Many Clouds in 2015.
Heavy ground at Ayr for this afternoon’s seven-race card and I hope to see Hemmings’ famous green and yellow silks back in the winners’ enclosure in the opener with Castle Rushen (12.30) whose hurdling was not always fluent when making a winning debut here over the minimum trip last month. Today’s step up in trip should suit and underfoot conditions hold no terrors given both career wins have been gained on heavy ground. The opening 11/8 with William Hill looked too big and the selection is 11/10 with BetVictor.
O’Hanrahan Bridge (1.35) ended a frustrating run of seconds when scoring at Carlisle earlier in the month stepped up to three miles for the first time and he is taken to follow up from a 5lbs higher mark. Brian Hughes keeps the ride, and it should be worth noting that he also rode likely market rival Legalized last time when Dianne Sayer’s mare finished second here over a shorter trip. Donald McCain’s hurdler is 13/8 with 10bet.
Skandiburg was a bitter disappointment on his chase debut when he looked ill at ease around the tight turns of Fakenham on good ground. Today’s more galloping track should suit as will the softer ground, but preference is for Mayo Star (2.10). Nicky Richards’ 8-y-old defied an 833-day absence when scoring over timber here in January and is a half-brother to high-class chaser Outlander. The selection – 11/4 with BetVictor – would be receiving 11lbs from Skandiburg if this were a handicap, but we know he goes well fresh and gets the nod.
Good ground forecast at Fakenham and a terrific 2m 5f Handicap Chase. Captain Speaking and Greystown are chasing their respective hat-tricks but I prefer Thomas Todd – who has a good course record – and Big Chief Benny (1.15) with preference for the Alan King-trained nine-year-old who is very well treated over fences on his hurdles form and ran a good race at Bangor on his reappearance. He has yet to prove he gets this this trip, but is 16lbs lower over fences than his last winning mark over hurdles, although I appreciate that was almost four years ago! The opening 4s looked big but at the time of posting he is 5/2 with William Hill.
At Kempton, My Girl Maggie (1.25) has been off the track since beaten at 2/5 back in June which suggests something was amiss with Mark Johnston’s filly. She receives 12lbs from the Doncaster winner Al Zaraqaan who landed a bit of a gamble when returning from a 250-day lay-off to score in south Yorkshire.
I thought My Girl Maggie – 2s with Boylesports – ran a terrific race at Pontefract on her penultimate start when runner up in handicap company to Sir Mark Prescott’s Revolver who was rated 57 at the time. The latter is now rated 100 and the selection gave the winner 13lbs and went down by just a neck. I expect Franny Norton to make plenty of use of his filly over this 1m 3f trip.