THEY say ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’ and Paul Nicholls gives punters his annual Present in the Badger Beers Silver Trophy at Wincanton.
PRESENT MAN (3.35) bids for a hat-trick in the big race at the Somerset venue and has a massive chance. He goes well fresh, loves the place, gets on great with regular rider Bryony Frost and is still fairly handicapped.
Despite being 4lb higher than 12 months ago he meets last year’s near three-length runner-up Sumkindofking on the same terms. And, make no mistake, today is Present Man’s biggest day of the season – forget Cheltenham and Aintree.
For his owner Mark Woodhouse is boss of the sponsoring brewery! His star will not need the run, unlike stablemate Give Me A Copper, who should still go well.
White Moon is well treated on his novice form but fell when in contention here last time. He is higher in the weights in a better race and struggled to regain his best form after a tumble on his first run of last season.
The Young Master ‘won’ this race five years ago but was disqualified as he had not run in sufficient races over fences. He bounced back to form early last term and will enjoy the ground but has crept up the weights again. Just A Sting, who goes well fresh, and Grand National fourth Walk In The Mill may prove bigger dangers.
Fusil Raffles looks likely to be very short for the Elite Hurdle (3.00) and it is understandable the bookies are taking few chances.
He is two from two since joining Nicky Henderson, winning impressively at Kempton before landing a Grade 1 at Punchestown. But that was just a five-runner affair in which his main rival had been very busy and was possibly below his best.
Coming back from six months off the favourite may be vulnerable and Nicholls’ GRAND SANCY can take advantage. He had some top novice form, including a Grade 1 second, last term and is two from two at the track.
He ran well for a long way on his reappearance and this is a race – indeed a meeting – that the trainer always targets. For that reason, Christopher Wood cannot be ruled out. The rest may struggle.
At Aintree OLDGRANGEWOOD (2.05) is the one to be with in the £80,000 handicap chase over 2m4f. He has always had loads of ability but trainer Dan Skelton concluded that breathing problems were preventing him showing it.
He returns after a wind operation, at a track where he has run well before, off a very tempting mark of 136. Two seasons ago he was third in the Old Roan Chase and fourth of 16 in the big 3m handicap on National Day, both those efforts off ratings at least 10lb higher than his current one.
Plus he was third in that same race last April. The Skelton team are in good form and a big run is expected.
Cepage goes well fresh but faces a stiff task off top weight. The Russian Doyen is fairly treated on his novice form but may be better over shorter.
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The same could be true of ex-Irish Riders Onthe Storm, who will not fail for lack of fitness running for the Twiston-Davies team. Duke Street will be a player if he transfers his improved hurdles form back to the larger obstacles.
War Sound won the race 12 months ago after a break and should run well but if Oldgrangewood is back to his best then he will be very hard to beat.
Even those with a Sunday morning hangover should make the effort to totter down to the bookies. It will be worth it as TOTTERDOWN (2.55 Sandown) has a great chance of repeating last season’s win.
The tough front-runner made all that day on similarly testing ground and he has his ideal conditions again. He is only 1lb higher now and has moved from Richard Phillips to Fergal O’Brien.
I spy an eyecatcher…
At Chepstow on Wednesday Simply The Betts was impressive when winning the novice handicap chase over two miles for Harry Whittington on his seasonal reappearance.
But the runner-up, ESPOIR DE GUYE, may prove just as profitable to follow. The ex-French five-year-old looked set to be outpaced when weakening in the straight but stayed on again to take second close home.
He was probably beaten far enough to prevent the handicapper taking any retribution and his mark of 120 gives trainer Venetia Williams plenty of options.
His sole hurdle win in France came over 2m3f and he is one to note when stepping back up in distance.
The Naunton handler is striking at 40% plus of late so fitness is unlikely to be a problem. If he handles the ground Nebuchadnezzar should make the frame.
And the sense of deja vu can continue for punters at the Esher course as LOOSE CHIPS can defy the advancing years and repeat his win of 12 months ago in the veterans’ chase at 3.30.
He has course-and-distance career form figures of 21213235315P5 and has always been at his best at this track which suits his front-running style.
He warmed up in the same Carlisle race as last season and is 7lb lower than that day after some modest runs in the spring. He is 13 now but trainer Charlie Longsdon has won similar events here with Pete The Feat when he was 15!
Most of the opposition are returning from absences and may need this to blow away a few cobwebs – that will definitely not be the case with Chips.