The weights for the Cheltenham handicaps were published on Wednesday and Escaria Ten has long been my fancy for the Ultima on the opening day. The waters are muddied of course by the fact that he is currently trained by Gordon Elliot who will be made aware on Friday morning what sanctions will be taken against him by IRHB over last weekend’s damming social media images.
If, as expected, Elliot loses his licence, the horse is likely to be moved to another yard by owners the McNeil family. This likely change of scenery cannot be good news for the horse’s chance on the eve of a Festival bid. The brilliant Envoi Allen and the other Cheveley Park owned horses have already left Elliot ahead of the, seemingly, inevitable ban.
Newbury host a competitive seven-race card today and my two against the field in the 2m handicap chase are Foxboro (3.00) and Shut The Box with the former getting the each way recommendation at 16/1 with William Hill. The selection jumped well until the Railway fences over an additional half-mile at Sandown last time on heavy ground and he has been dropped 4lbs as a result. The 6-y-old was a winner in his native Germany on good ground and he made a pleasing British debut when second at Plumpton.
Shut The Box finished behind Le Ligerien in a Jumpers’ Bumper last time, but he can reverse the form with the Hobbs runner on 7lbs better terms. His previous second to Funambule Sivola has been franked by the winner and he would be 2lbs higher in the weights if the race were run on Saturday.
In the 2m 4f handicap hurdle for conditional jockey’s Everything For You is a fascinating contender stepping up in trip for Ian Williams having finished second in a Jumpers’ Bumper last time. A market move would be worth noting.
The vote, however, goes to Guernesey (4.10) who is taken to improve for the additional half-mile having finished third at Warwick last time when he finished behind Song Of The Hunter who reopposes on 3lbs worse terms. The ew selection – 7s with William Hill 4 places – is bred to appreciate the step up in distance and the better ground will suit. Santon is another to consider back on a decent surface.
Good ground at Doncaster and Gylo (2.50) is taken to build on his recent Newcastle Bumper success on tapeta when he ran away from a competitive field. The selection shaped with promise on his hurdles debut at Southwell back in December and will certainly appreciate underfoot conditions having been taken out of a similar race on account of heavy ground at Wetherby over Christmas. The selection is 13/8 with BetVictor.
The valuable 2m 3f handicap chase is a hot race and all eight hold a realistic chance. Pogue (3.25) has finished runner up in both starts so far this term and has a C&D record of 12. Good ground clearly suits Donald McCain’s grey, and the hope is that Brian Hughes can dictate his own pace from the front. The selection is 10/3 with 10bet.
Prudhomme is 5lbs higher than when scoring over C&D back in December and he looks the chief threat although Not Another Muddle is very well handicapped on his best form.
My two against the field in the 3m Novices’ Handicap Chase are Bootlegger (4.30) and Normandy Soldier with preference for the former who has his first start for Tristan Davidson having left Neil Mulholland since a beaten favourite at Market Rase back In November. The selection’s sole win over hurdles came here last January over 2m 3f but today’s trip is well within his compass on good ground. There was 5/1 available on Thursday afternoon but the selection is 11/4 with 10bet at the time of posting.
Normandy Soldier – 9s with Boylesports – is fitted with cheekpieces for the first-time by Richard Mitford-Slade who did us a favour in the Devon National with Samuel Jackson last Friday. The 7-y-o is a winner between the flags on good ground and shaped promisingly on his chase debut at Taunton in a race where they only jumped nine fences on account of the low sun. He would have been the recommendation, but his best form has been going right-handed. A check of the market is advised, however.