Exeter’s Haldon Gold Cup will move away from its normal Tuesday slot to a Friday from 2022 but this afternoon’s renewal of this prestigious handicap will be run on ground described as good to soft on Monday morning.
Paul Nicholls has saddled the winner of three of the last six renewals including 12 months ago when Greaneteen defied a mark of 151 to beat Moonlighter a neck. The winner is rated 17lbs higher today and is 11lbs worse off with the runner up although the Nick Williams yard have not yet had a winner this jumps season.
Hitman (1.55) is the Nicholls’ runner running from a mark of 151 this year and he is taken to make a winning seasonal reappearance. The selection won two of his five starts as a novice but looked to be going best when falling at Sandown in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Chase in February and this intermediate 2m 1f trip looks ideal for the 5-y-old who has had his wind tweaked since failing to get home at Aintree over two-and-a-half miles back in the spring. This looks an ideal starting point. The opening 13/8 with William Hill looked too big and he is a best price of 11/10 at the time of posting – 7pm Monday.
Ask Me Early is an interesting runner in the opening novice hurdle for Harry Fry given he made such great strides over fences last season winning three of his five starts as a novice. This extended 2m 5f is on the sharp side, however, for the 7-year-old who is likely to be contesting some of the big staying handicap chases this term with the Welsh National likely to be a midseason target.
Note his one moderate run was going right-handed although he was largely a model of consistency last term – a statement that does not apply to many of his stablemates.
Bold Conduct returns from over a 1000-day break for Colin Tizzard but looks best watched and the vote goes to the Nicholls’ trained Outlaw Peter (12.55) who made a winning British start in a Chepstow Bumper last month. The selection – 6/5 with Boylesports – ran an excellent race behind the Cheltenham Bumper fourth Three Stripe Life at Navan in January and Nicholls must think of him as a stayer, given he wastes no time in getting him over a trip – albeit not three miles – over timber.
It could be a very good day for Nicholls as I feel you must give another chance to Threeunderthrufive (2.25) who was baulked and pushed right by Ask Dillon at a number of obstacles at Chepstow on his chase debut and should appreciate going clockwise today. The selection – 11/10 with William Hill – is unbeaten in three starts going right-handed and has little to fear from Honest Vic who was in opposition at Chepstow. A bigger danger may be Ask A Honey Bee a winner at this meeting 12 months ago over timber.
The Fergal O’Brien trained 7-year-old ran well on his chase debut, but he is not guaranteed to appreciate this extended 3m trip although he rallied gamely over 2m 6f at Uttoxeter last time.
Pogo I Am (3.25) is not certain to appreciate the 2m 5f trip in the mares’ handicap hurdle but she ran a promising race when third at Warwick on her reappearance and has run well over two-and-a-half in the past. Her Bumper win came on good to soft ground and she gets the each way vote. The 7s about on Monday afternoon looked more than fair and he is into 5s with Boylesports 4 places by 7pm.
At Newcastle Oz Legend (3.00) returns to the scene over his mile maiden success back in December. The gelding has been off the track for over three months and has his first start for James Ferguson. The three horses who finished directly behind the selection last year are all now rated in the 80s and, with that in mind, the 3-y-old looks well treated from a mark of seventy-nine. He was beaten less than 2L in third by Siskany – now rated 111- at Windsor off the level weights back in the summer with Surefire – now rated 95 – just a neck in front of him.
After just six career starts, he looks open to further improvement if the change of scenery works the oracle especially back on tapeta. The 11/2 with William Hill looked attractive and he is a best price of 9/2 on Monday evening.