#startracking Friday February 26th 6pm

So much for my second guessing Alan King and his plans for his 4yo’s earlier! Completely wrong!

A fascinating weekend of racing albeit less than three weeks from the Festival and hopefully my selections won’t get “bogged” down for once. So what are we looking for?

JP McManus has a shed load of entries, many of which require close scrutiny especially the Leopardstown handicaps on Sunday. Rory Delargy (Freelance racing broadcaster/writer and Final Furlong Podcast contributor) when asked about Draco tells me on Twitter “Interesting, but connections need to be careful – if he wins on Sunday, he’ll be reassessed rather than carry a 5lb penalty. Normally Sunday results ignored when handicapping early closing races, but BHA make an exception for the Cheltenham handicaps.”

Performance of the big yards especially Messrs Nicholls, Henderson and O’Neill.

SATURDAY FAB FOUR

Newcastle 2.50           SHOTGUN PADDY

Kempton 3.35            CHAMPAGNE WEST

Newcastle 2.20           DRAYTONIAN

Newcastle 3.25           DELUSIONSOFGRANDEUR

#startracking Saturday runners

Kempton 2.00 GIBRALFARO Has to give weight all round to two previous winners and three touted horses but if the handicapper is to be believed it is within his compass as it will be a big ask for a 4yo newcomer to run to OR144+ on debut and Gibralfaro looks a solid three star*** win bet @ 11/10 with PP (12.30pm)

“Gibralfaro has his Triumph Hurdle trial in the Adonis. I have been happy with him since Ascot, though I think the handicapper might have over-reacted in putting him up 9lb for standing in his box when runner-up Connetable won at Sandown. I just hope the handicapper is right, but he is now rated 151 and there are plenty of Triumph winners who don’t get that high a mark.” Alan King on his website

Kempton 3.05 OCEANE takes on the older horses and despite getting weight has a stiff task against the likes of stable-mate Winter Escape and Dan Skelton’s Welsh Shadow. It has to be a Watching Brief.

“Oceane is in good form after his winter break and the drier ground will certainly help him. He is in three races at the Festival and this should tell us which route we should take or indeed whether we should wait for Aintree.” Alan King on his website

Kempton 3.35 CHAMPAGNE WEST Has to be a solid three star*** win bet @ 6/1 (Ladbrokes 5.00pm) for reasons given below, See BETBRIGHT CHASE

Kempton 5.20 DRUMCLIFF Priced up for this year’s very open Champion Bumper at just 25/1 top price with SkyBet but none of the High Street Big Four. One of a few JP McManus sent Harry Fry for the first time this season, noteworthy in itself, Drumcliff was green but “in command” on winning debut at Taunton. I have high hopes for this 60K euros, son of Presenting. Let’s go with a two star** selection @ 3/1 general.

BETBRIGHT CHASE

Kempton 3.35 CHAMPAGNE WEST Jumping is his Achilles heel but the longer trip and lesser pace may help and even on OR154 he could be well handicapped. His conqueror in the Caspian Caviar chase, Village Vic, has gone up another 4lbs recently for standing in his box! He’s won for Tom O’Brien, there should be enough juice in the ground to suit and I think the extra two furlongs will bring further improvement, he does still hold a Cheltenham Gold Cup entry! At last Friday 1.20pm Mr Johnson reveals all in his Betway Blog! I’m on Roc D’Apsis for Tom George in the big handicap chase (3.35pm) and it’s great to pick up a good spare. The owner was keen for Tom [O’Brien] to ride Champagne West and I can understand that. He ran really well behind Village Vic two starts back and there’s every chance those two could meet at the Festival again. Three miles round Kempton should be absolutely fine for Champagne West. The Village Vic form is very strong and he should have a very good chance. He made a bad mistake at Cheltenham last time, which knocked him out of the race. He came back fine from that, though, and he’s got good form on better ground.” Said through gritted teeth?!?

EIDER CHASE

Newcastle 3.00 SHOTGUN PADDY I love the booking of Davy Russell and surely it is only weight, and clouting one fence too many, that can stop this horse going really close. He is a knocking two star** e/w selection @ 9/1 ¼ the odds first four with Coral.

Thoughts of connections courtesy of sportinglife.com The weights are headed by the the Emma Lavelle-trained Shotgun Paddy, who was last seen finishing third in the Welsh National. Former Irish champion jockey Davy Russell is an interesting jockey booking. Dan Downie, racing manager for the owning Axom Syndicate, said: “The ground drying up might not be the worst thing in the world because over four miles I don’t think any horse really wants it desperate. He ran a gallant race at Chepstow to be third, he was really brave. Since then he’s had a fair break so it’s not like we’re asking him to come back too quick. This has always been the plan for him since then as Aintree and Ayr are never likely to suit him. I think he’d get taken off his feet at Aintree unless it was like Red Marauder’s year. This is his race, there’s £85,000 on offer.”

Davy Russell also blogs with Betway and he said “I’m heading to Newcastle rather than Navan on Saturday where I’ve picked up the ride on the top-weight Shotgun Paddy in the Eider Chase (2.50pm). He’s got no easy task being shouldered with 11st 12lbs, but he’s got that weight for a reason as he’s high class on his day. Yes, he is liable to make the odd jumping error here and there, but he ran with real credit in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow last time and a reproduction of that run will see him go close.

Weekends Racing

Kempton has plenty of #startracking runners but the Pertemps Qualifier at Chepstow at 3.45 is a cracker with the likes of O’Faolains Boy, Kings Palace, Pineau de Re, Gevry Chambertin and a whole series of in-form horses. Expect them to ride out for sixth to qualify for the final! At Newcastle Philip Hobbs has Woodford County in the Eider and the other two horses he has put in the box are both worth supporting, Draytonian in the handicap hurdle at 2.20 (Nicely summed up by Catching Pigeons column on sportinglife.com Draytonian can double his tally for the season in the Betfred Handicap Hurdle, earlier on the card. Philip Hobbs’ charge is coming back from a break following a dismal effort at Kempton nine weeks ago, and looks worth another chance. He looks well handicapped on his two previous efforts this term at Wetherby, an emphatic win and a close third to the highly-rated Charmix.”) and Shambougg to defy a penalty in the bumper at 5.05. Another trainer who could be among the winners is Sue Smith. Her DelusionsofGrandeur at 3.25 has strong form with the likes of Ballydine, Jonniesofa and OO Seven and at 4.35 she saddles Blakemount who has long been a favourite of SimpleSimonSays.. but niggling injuries have so far stopped his chasing career taking off.

#startrackingCheltenham AntePostUpdate

4m NH chase LOCAL SHOW Trainer Ben Pauling talking to Ladbrokes (why?) “He’s a nice horse that has done everything I’ve asked of him so far. All he does is stay so the four-miler looks to be a very good option for him. He came to us on a mark of 125 and I knew he was held in high regard, but is now rated 147 so I suppose he’s already excelled what the owners were hoping for. He goes to there with a decent chance and it is exciting to see how he goes around Cheltenham. I think he will be a better horse on a sounder surface. He doesn’t necessarily want it quick, but he’s not a horse with a high knee action as such, so I don’t think he’s one that relishes the wet, he has simply handled it so far.”

Dan Skelton’s latest Cheltenham update on Coral’s Stable Talk.

“In terms of Cheltenham plans, everything is shaping up nicely. It looks like we’ll run Mister Miyagi and North Hill Harvey in the Supreme. Stephanie Frances will run in the Mares Hurdle and Willow’s Saviour will go in the novices’ handicap chase.

On the Wednesday we have Its’afreebee in the Neptune and possibly Welsh Shadow depending on how he gets on at Kempton. Long House Hall goes for the Coral Cup, Kasakh Noir is on target for the Fred Winter and Ashoka could go too. This has been the plan for Kasakh Noir since he got beat at Newbury. Work In Progress is in the Coral Cup, the Neptune Hurdle and the Conditional Hurdle on Friday but we haven’t decided where he goes yet.

Thursday is a big day with Al Ferof in the Ryanair, and Sir Mangan and Three Musketeers both running in the Pertemps and the JLT respectively.

On Friday Superb Story goes in the County Hurdle, with Workbench and Savello in the Grand Annual, and a few options in the Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle.

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