bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase Tips 3m5f Sandown Saturday

First run in 1957 under the sponsorship of the Whitbread Brewery, the race is now sponsored by the Stoke Bookmakers, bet365, and this valuable, always competitive Chase, which has been won by some of the greats of The Winter Game, brings the curtain down on what has been another terrific National Hunt season.

Nigel Twiston-Davies won this back in 2000 with the 7yo, beau, and will be hoping that his tough and talented Blaklion might achieve some compensation for his early departure in The Grand National a fortnight ago. Unluckily brought down at the first at Aintree, the son of Kayf Tara had made a good start to his season, finishing 1/2L second to his stable companion, Bristol De Mai, in The Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November, and then putting up a career best performance the following month, when winning The 3m2f Beecher Chase at Aintree by 9L from The Last Samurai. Raised a severe looking 9lbs, he finished a distant second at Haydock on ground that was bordering on the unraceable in February to Yala Enki. His current rating of 161 leaves him with top weight of 11-12 to carry but his performances before Christmas showed him to be an improved animal this term, and it will come as no surprise to see this tough character involved at the business end on Saturday.

If Blaklion fails to do the business the Naunton yard has a strong looking second string with the 9yo Bigbadjohn. A winner of the Grade2 Reynoldstown Chase for Novices at Ascot in 2017 the future looked bright for the son of Vinnie Roe, but alas, his next five runs were most disappointing. However he got back into the winning groove at Kempton in February where, jumping soundly, he stayed on strongly over the three miles trip to beat the useful Brandon Hill by a length. He can be forgiven his fall at The Chair in The Topham Trophy at Aintree fifteen days ago and back on a more conventional track he doesn’t look badly treated on his mark of 138 giving him a lovely racing weight of 10-3.

A winner of his only PTP and Bumper, Missed Approach went on to win his first race over hurdles and indeed his first handicap over the smaller obstacles, (3m Soft) but his future was always going to be as a staying chaser and so it has proved. He has to date put up some sterling performances in that discipline, including a second to subsequent Grand National Hero, Tiger Roll in the 4mile National Hunt Chase at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival and a superb win over Mall Dini in the 3m2f Kim Muir at this year’s Cheltenham Jamboree. He has been raised 8lbs for that victory but still doesn’t look overburdened with 10-11 at the weekend, and I suspect we have still to see the best of Warren Greatrex’s 8yo.

The Philip Hobbs trained Rock The Kasbah, having got behind, stayed on strongly from the second last to claim 6th place, only 2 1/4L behind the winner Henllan Harry, in last year’s renewal when racing off a mark of 142. phillip hobbs oddsguruHe made his seasonal reappearance a winning one off the same mark at Chepstow nearly six months later, and was then pulled up on unsuitable heavy ground in his only other race at Haydock in January. A year older, and a stronger animal this time, who will enjoy the likely good ground, he looks well treated on his mark of 149, giving him a racing weight of 11-0, and is well worth considering.

The David Pipe trained 6yo, Daklondike, has looked a seriously progressive young chaser. He won over fences for the first time at Wetherby in November off a mark of 114, and only eight weeks later saw him winning The Mandarin Chase at Newbury (3m2f Heavy) in facile fashion from that good yardstick Grand Vision off a 19lbs higher mark. He looks very well handicapped on Saturday racing off a mark of 140, giving him the featherweight of 10-5 to carry and the only reservation I have is the ground. He has done all his winning with plenty of give underneath and it remains to be seen how he will cope with conditions at the weekend. However in his favour his very talented half brother, Great Endeavour had no problem with good ground and neither had the grand dam, Ross Gale.

One who will cope if the going is on top on Saturday is the Nicky Henderson trained Sugar Baron. A winner on Good/ Firm, the 8yo was 7th in last year’s race, only 2 1/2L behind the winner Henlland Harry despite some sticky jumping and a weak finish. Jumping better and finishing strongly over course and distance in December he just failed to catch Benbens off a mark of 135. He is easily excused his last run behind Missed Approach at the Festival on unsuitable soft ground and should have his optimum conditions at the weekend. Again racing off 135, giving him a lowly 10-2 to carry he has to be worth considering.

Selection: Rock The Kasbah

E.W. : Sugar Baron

John Gray


Coral Scottish Grand National Handicap Chase 4 Miles Ayr Saturday

The history of the race goes all the way back to 1858, but the contest didn’t reach it’s present venue until 1966 when it was run over Saturday’s course and distance for the first time. Always run with a big field, racing with the choke out, experience clearly counts, and only one 6yo, (Earth Summit 1994, and he had already raced ten times over fences) has managed to win. Age has been no bar to success with twelve animals older than nine coming home in front, and indeed the last decade has seen three 11yo’s collecting first prize, Hello Bud 2009, Merigo 2012, and Wayward Prince in 2015.

Earth Summits’ trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, is seeking an unprecedented fourth win in the contest, and at the time of writing has three entries, Ballyoptic, the veteran Benbens and last year’s runner up, Cogry, and despite the claims of the latter, the 8yo Ballyoptic looks his best chance. He has only raced five times over fences but has won two of them including a Wetherby Grade2 in February from Saturday’s opponent, Vintage Clouds, and he ran well enough last time to finish 4th in The RSA to Presenting Percy at The Cheltenham Festival. His ability to last out Saturday’s marathon trip has to be taken on trust but he is stoutly bred, (by Old Vic out of an Un Desperado mare) and it’s worth remembering that he had the class and stamina to beat Bellshill in a 3m1f Grade1 Hurdle at Aintree two years ago.

Last year’s winner, the Paul Nicholls trained Vicente, was the first animal to bag two consecutive Scottish Grand Nationals since Jimmy Fitzgerald’s Androma came home in front for the second time in 1985, and having had a fairly easy time of it this term, must have decent prospects of bringing up the hat trick. vicenteHe looked as good as ever when just losing out to Perfect Candidate on his seasonal reappearance in November, and then twice avoided a tough race, when unseating in The Welsh National in January on attritional ground, and again, racing on very heavy ground, was pulled up at the Cheltenham Festival behind Coo Star Sivola. He has a higher mark to defy this time but remember last year’s success was achieved a fortnight after falling in the Aintree edition, and with the drying ground very much in the 9yo’s favour, he has to enter calculations.

The Sue Smith trained 8yo, Vintage Clouds, meets his Wetherby conqueror, Ballyoptic, on 5lbs better terms for that 2 3/4L beating and he subsequently ran a fine race to finish 3rd to Coo Star Sivola at The Cheltenham Festival. He stayed on dourly in The Welsh National (3m5f Heavy) so could find Saturday’s trip right up his street, and with 10-12 on his back at the weekend, provides owner, Trevor Hemmings, with a useful looking second string to his bow, (also owns Vicente).

The Neil Mulholland (pictured) trained Doing Fine, has had a nice easy time of it this winter and having avoided the dreadful Winter ground will strip a fresh animal at the weekend. The 10yo hasn’t been seen since finishing 4th to Benbens over 3m5f at Sandown in December and meets that rival on 10lbs better terms on Saturday. neil mulholland ayrHe has never won over Saturday’s trip but looked an out and out stayer when beating Ugolin De Beaumont to whom he was conceding 18lbs by 6L over 3m4f at Cheltenham last April. Doing Fine, who will enjoy Saturday’s drying conditions and can go well after a break, has only been with his talented trainer for 18 months, and as the yard is firing in the winners at present, is definitely one to note with his nice racing weight of 10-6.

Having won The Irish, and Aintree Grand Nationals this Spring, the County Meath Maestro, Gordon Elliott seeks an unprecedented third with Fagan and Folsom Blue. The latter, an 11yo must have had a very hard race when finishing 4th to his stable companion, General Principle, in that controversial Irish National run on ground that many deemed unraceable, so perhaps his best chance lies with the 8yo Fagan. The ex pointer, won three of his five races in that discipline before joining the Elliott Academy where he won his first two bumpers and two of his four Hurdle races. His future always lay over fences and he duly won the second of his four chases, winning a Perth Novices Chase by 95L. Only 2nd in his last two, it was in pretty good company, finishing runner up to Ballyandy last September and Black Corton last October. Saturday’s task looks a huge one making his handicap debut in such a competitive heat off a stiff enough looking mark, but coming from this yard I suppose anything is possible.

The David Pipe trained, Daklondike as a 6yo will be trying to emulate Earth Summit, the only horse of that age to succeed in the whole history of the Scottish National, and he will be attempting to do it with far less experience over fences than the subsequent winner of the Aintree Grand National had at the time. He has only raced five times over the larger obstacles, but has won three of the last four, and looked a staying chaser of some potential when winning the 3m2f Mandarin Chase at Newbury last time. He finished with a real flourish to put that good yardstick, Grand Vision, in his place, and looked as if there was plenty more to come over staying distances. However that was on heavy ground and it remains to be seen how he will cope with the likely faster ground on Saturday. In his favour, the elder Pipe has brought the trophy back to Pond House on two occasions so they certainly know what is required down Nicholashayne way.

Selection : Doing Fine

E.W. : Vintage Clouds and Daklondike

John Gray

Randox Health Grand National Handicap 4m2 1/2f Aintree Saturday

In the forty renewals of the great race, between 1958, when the Co Wicklow trained Mr What came home in front, and 1997, Irish yards only collected the prize on one other occasion, (the Dan Moore trained L’Escargot in 1975) but in the twenty runnings since, stables from across the Irish Sea have been responsible for more than a third of the winners, (Bobbyjo 1999, papillon 2000 Monty’s Pass2003, Hedgehunter 2005, Number Six Valverde2006 Silver Birch 2007, and Rule The World two years ago. This is clearly a very significant trend so any contenders from The Emerald Isle need to be treated with plenty of respect, perhaps none more so than current market leader, Total Recall.

Trained in Co Carlow by master handler, Willie Mullins, (who won with Hedgehunter in 2005) the 9yo son of Westerner certainly has plenty to recommend him. He was campaigned until this season mainly around 2 1/2m, with only limited success, (a single victory from his first six races over fences). It is only since he started tackling longer distances last October, that Total Recall’s career has really taken off, culminating in a superb victory in The Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury, ( The Hennessy Handicap until 2017 ) last December. Having won his previous race, a 3m Limerick Handicap very easily from Alpha Des Obeaux off a mark of 129, he was sent off the well backed 9/2 favourite in the 20 runner field for the Newbury classic. Racing off an eighteen pounds higher mark for the 3m2f contest, he duly obliged in the style of a real stayer, keeping on strongly from the last to collar the talented Whisper on the line. Reverting to hurdles two months later, he won a Leopardstown 3m Handicap easily prior to his latest race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Sent off a 14/1 chance, he was responding to pressure from pilot, David Mullins, to go into 6th place with four to jump, but unfortunately came down at the third last. We will never know what might have happened had he stood up, but there was still petrol left in the tank and I suppose the fall saved him from having too hard a race. He had only fallen once before, (his first race over fences) so this progressive staying chaser, although 9lbs higher than for the Ladbroke Trophy, with 11-4 on his back on Saturday doesn’t look overburdened, and could just make it number two for Willie.

One who did have a hard race at the Cheltenham Festival was the gallant 8yo Shantou Flyer. Runner up in his three previous races, he looked as if he might break the sequence under a good ride from the excellent young James Bowen ( and would have done so in another few strides) when mugged by Coo Star Sivola in The Ultima Handicap. He was pulled up in last year’s National as a 7yo when trained by Rebecca Curtis, but is a much stronger and more mature animal now, and he was staying on stoutly in the 3m1f Ultima on dreadful ground on the first day of The Cheltenham Festival. His pedigree, (by Shantou out of the Bob Back mare Carrigmona Flyer) shouts stamina, and having had thirty two days to get over his Festival effort, he looks nicely handicapped racing off the same mark, giving him a racing weight of 11-1 and at current odds around 40/1 this veteran of 24 chases, who has only ever fallen once, looks one to be interested in.

The Gordon Elliot trained Ucello Conti was going well enough in mid division when unseating at Beechers on the second circuit last year, and runs this time off a 2lbs lower mark, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-9. His Uber shrewd trainer has only given him the two runs since last year’s effort, finishing second to Saturday’s opponent Anibale Fly at Leopardstown in December, and pulled up on heavy ground in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park the following month. He is owned by one of the most successful partnerships on the National Hunt scene, Simon Munir and Isaac Souede and it would come as no surprise to see the 10yo involved on Saturday.

The above mentioned Anibale Fly did best of the Irish contenders in the Gold Cup, finishing third, 8 1/2L behind Native River. While he couldn’t go the pace of the first two, Tony Martins 8yo stayed on well to hold on to third place. Given a revised rating of 168 following that Gold Cup effort he gets to race off his previous mark of 159 in this early closing contest giving him 11-7 to carry. His sire Assessor is a big influence for stamina and his legendary owner J.P. McManus would love to bag a second Grand National.

The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Blaklion ran a marvellous race in last year’s renewal finishing in 4th place. He looked the most likely winner approaching the 2nd from home but took a bump, and was headed between the last two. Slightly hampered at the last he stayed on but lost third place near the line. He ran another fine race over the National fences when winning The Becher Chase, (3m2f) on heavy ground last December, beating The Last Samurai by 9L. Unfortunately this has led to a 9lbs rise in his rating to 161 giving him a racing weight of 11-9 at the weekend, a burden only carried once successfully (by Many Clouds three years ago) since the immortal Red Rum won with 12-0 on his back in 1974. That said his top trainer has won the great race twice before, with Earth Summit in 1998 and Bindaree four years later, so certainly knows what is required, and Blaklion is undoubtedly an improved performer this term.

The David Pipe trained 9yo Vieux Lion Rouge has an enviable record over the big Aintree fences having completed in all four attempts. He was 6th in last year’s National, 7th the year before, finished 7th behind Blaklion in the Beecher Chase last December and won the previous year’s renewal of that same contest. Presumably with the National in mind he has only had one run since early December, finishing a respectable 4th in an Ascot Handicap (17Feb 3mSoft). He will strip a fresh horse on Saturday and off a 2lbs lower mark than last year it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see the prize go back to Pond House in Somerset for a third time. (Miinnehoma 1994 Comply Or Die 2008).

Selection: Total Recall

E.W. : Shantou Flyer and Ucello Conti

John Gray

Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase 3m 2f Kelso Saturday

With the big Aintree Jamboree scheduled for next week it’s not surprising that this Saturday’s fare is of a fairly low order, but lovely Kelso, in The Scottish Borders, does host their biggest meeting of the year, so let’s hope the awful weather relents, and allows this interesting card to go ahead. The most valuable heat of the day is the Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase over 3m2f, and with heavy ground a near certainty, stamina is going to be the order of the day.

One who will love the conditions is last year’s winner, Yala Enki (pictured). In a small field of only seven runners, he won by 7L from the re-opposing Seldom Inn. yala-enki-oddsguruHowever, it was all downhill for the Venetia Williams trained 8yo in his next five races, until getting his act together at the sixth time of asking, he came home 54L clear of Blaklion on atrocious ground in a Haydock Grade3 Chase, (3m4 1/2f Heavy) in February. He also ran well enough last time, finishing 6th of eighteen runners behind Coo Star Sivola at The Cheltenham Festival. There is plenty in his favour but it’s worth noting that his win in last year’s renewal was achieved off a relatively light campaign, (only one run in the previous three months) whereas this time he has had four tough races on attritional winter ground in the same timespan, and he is racing off a 6lbs higher mark.

With three wins, and three places from seven starts at Kelso, the course record of last year’s runner up, the Sandy Thomson trained Seldom Inn, speaks for itself. He has been mostly campaigned at around three miles but did show in last year’s contest, and more recently, when finishing a close 2nd in a Kelso 3m2f Hurdle on heavy ground that Saturday’s trip is within his compass. Off a 6lbs lower mark, (12lbs better off with Yala Enki), he has a good chance of keeping the prize in Scotland.

The Nicky Richards (pictured) trained Baywing could only manage 4th in last year’s renewal, finishing 11L behind Yala Enki off a mark of 147. Put away for the season, he failed to shine in any of his first four races this term, but, dropped to a mark of 140 last time, he looked much more the finished article when winning the valuable Eider Chase by 4L from West Of The Edge at Newcastle. Nicky-Richards-oddsguruThe handicapper has done him no favours, raising him to a mark of 149, but this will be partially offset by regular partner, Ryan Day’s 3lbs claim. He looked a more assured jumper in the Eider, and as a horse who has had the pace to win over hurdles at 2 1/2m, the drop back in trip shouldn’t be a problem. Looks one for the shortlist!

The Donald McCain trained mare, Lastbutnotleast, has got quite a progressive look about her. The 8yo has won a PTP, a Bumper, and all three of her races over hurdles including at Class1 level over 3m1/2f (Doncaster Soft). Her three races over fences have been a mixed bag, pulled up in her first, winning her second by 36L and trailing in last in her third. Both defeats can be relatively easily explained, as the first of them was her first run for nearly ten months, and the second followed in a race, where in all probability she hadn’t recovered from her win on truly attritional ground only 24 days earlier, ( despite her winning margin of 36L, she finished legless ). She has had a nice 74 days break since, and looks quite well treated on a mark of 135 giving her a racing weight of 10-9 for this her handicap debut. A slight concern would be Saturday’s trip as her dam, the useful Lakill Princess was best at around 2m on soft/heavy ground. However her sire, Flemensfirth is a strong influence for stamina.

As well as Baywing, Nicky Richards also has the 9yo Takingrisks entered here, and if taking up the engagement, (also entered in the 3m2f Hurdle race on the card) would have to be of interest. With two wins, both on heavy ground, from three Kelso appearances, he clearly likes the venue, and added to his appeal last time when staying on strongly to beat Saturday’s opponent, Indy Five, by 2 1/4L. (Ayr 3mHeavy) four weeks ago off a mark of 127. He is only 4lbs higher on Saturday giving him the nice racing weight of 10-4, and although he has never won beyond 3m1f the way he put that Ayr contest to bed would strongly suggest that the step up in trip will suit.

The ex French trained Chic Name put in a great performance that certainly belied his odds of 100/1 when finishing 5th in the sixteen runner 3m6f Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.He was still there with a shout at the second last but could only stay on at the one pace. Mild heat stress was diagnosed post race making his effort even more commendable, and it may well be that the 6yo’s future career lies over staying trips. With only 10-4 on his back, and ace 3lbs claimer, James Bowen booked, he’s definitely worth a second look.

Selection : Baywing

E.W. : Chic Name

John Gray

Smarkets Challenger Staying Chase Series Final (Handicap) 3m1 1/2f Haydock Saturday

The main focus of attention for jumping enthusiasts this Saturday is Haydock Park, where the betting exchange company, Smarkets, host their finals day. They generously sponsor all seven races on a fascinating card but the heat that catches the eye is the final of the Smarkets Challenger Staying Chase Series.

When one considers the historically high strike rate of the Pond House Operation, one has to conclude that so far, it has been quite a disappointing season for David Pipe and his staff, but with two winners in the past fortnight, including that convincing victory of Rathlin Rose at Ascot, the corner may have been turned. If it does prove to be the case, the master of Pond House must have a serious chance of landing the valuable Challenger Staying Chase Final with his lightly weighted 8yo, Abracadabra Sivola. A veteran of 25 chases, he drew a blank in his seven starts since landing a Taunton Class3 Handicap last March off a mark of 129. However, dropped to a mark of 112 he showed that he was no back number when winning over Kempton’s tricky circuit 14 days ago. He made all, travelling well within himself, and put the result beyond doubt with his best jump of the round at the last. A course winner at Haydock over hurdles, his new mark of 117, gives him the featherweight of only 10-1 to shoulder, and he looks seriously well treated.

The Charlie Longsdon trained, Shanroe In Milan didn’t manage to catch the Judges eye in his two PTP’s or his seven races over hurdles but did get off the mark last time out in his third attempt over the larger obstacles. Racing off a mark of 117 in a Class4 Doncaster Handicap (3m Soft) he held on gamely to beat Bako De La Saulaie by 1/2L nine weeks ago. There is nothing special about the form but the Longsdon 6yo was always bred to be a chaser and having broken his duck could move on to greener pastures.

The Lucy Wadham trained Potters Legend looked a tad unlucky when coming down at the last at Fakenham 15 days ago. Having delivered a sustained challenge from two out, he had just taken it up when falling in the Class3 event, and off just a 2lbs higher mark, with the yard amongst the winners, the 8yo is certainly worth a second look.

After six attempts over fences, the one time winner over hurdles, Behind Time, got his head in front over the larger obstacles for the first time two weeks ago. The Harry Fry trained 7yo came home 4L clear of the useful Big River in a Class2 Uttoxeter Handicap (3mChase Heavy) off a mark of 120. He had been prone to making the odd mistake in his previous races and the fitting of cheek pieces may have helped. If they work the Oracle again, he doesn’t look badly treated on a mark of 127, giving him a racing weight of 10-13.

The Fergal O’Brien trained 10yo, Jenny’s Surprise is a pretty consistent mare who has won six times and been placed six times from her nineteen starts under National Hunt Rules. She battled on bravely to land a Class3 Ffos Las Handicap (3m Heavy) six weeks ago where she had Behind Time, 3L and a neck back in third. She meets Harry Fry’s charge on the same terms at the weekend so connections must be hopeful of landing this very nice pot.

The Nick William’s trained 10yo, Horatio Hornblower, a winner of three of his previous eighteen starts over fences, just failed to make it four, when going down by a neck to the redoubtable 14yo, Pete The Feat, in a Sandown Class3 (3m Soft) three weeks ago. With form over The Lancashire Track, (2nd brush Hurdle April 2014) and racing off his Sandown mark he could be interesting.

Wicked Willy is another contender with course form, (placed in both of his track appearances under NH rules). He put up a solid performance last time when finishing 4th in a Class2 Sandown Handicap (3m Soft) eight weeks ago. He was 6 3/4L behind the winner, the useful Ballydine, but would have been closer had he not made a costly mistake at the second last. 3rd in the Staying Hurdle Final of this series last April, he will enjoy Saturday’s likely better ground, and off the same mark as Sandown he looks to have a serious chance in what will only be his 6th race over fences.

The Sue Smith trained Delusionofgrandeur’s only course appearance was pretty inauspicious, finishing 4th of five runners, 30L behind the winner, politologue, in November 2016. However he has developed into a decent chaser winning four of his twelve starts. He may have found the 4m1f trip at Musselburgh last time beyond him, but prior to that was an excellent 3rd, only 1/2L behind the winner, Get On The Yeager, in a Class1 Grade3 Chase in December. As the class act in the field he has plenty of weight, (11-10), but will benefit from any drying of the ground, and coming from this yard I wouldn’t be surprised to see him involved.

Selection: Abracadabra Sivola

E.W. : Wicked Willy

John Gray

Preview 32Red Lincoln Handicap 1mile Doncaster Saturday

Three 6yo’s have won this in the past decade, two of them trained by master trainer, Richard Fahey, (Gabrial 2015, and Brae Hill 2012) and it’s not impossible that the Malton genius will bring up the treble with his son of Clodovil, Third Time Lucky. The 6yo showed that he stays beyond a mile, (always a useful attribute in The Lincoln) and can cope with the demands of a large field handicap, when winning the Cambridgeshire in 2015 (1m1f) Of a mark of 95, and indeed finishing 4th in the following years renewal. Since returning from a 218 days break last November, he has been campaigned exclusively on the All Weather, and put up a decent performance last time, when unsuited by the steadily run contest, he finished a respectable 3rd in Wolverhampton’s Lincoln Trial a fortnight ago, racing off a mark of 95. Arguably a better horse on turf, he will be much better suited by Saturday’s pillar to post gallop on ground that will suit, and off a mark only 2lbs higher than for that Cambridgeshire victory, has to be of interest. (25/1 available at the time of writing).

While experience counts for plenty in The Lincoln, the three times winning trainer (from only seven runners), Willie Haggas, has won on two of those occasions with animals that had raced fewer than six times. This has to make his sole entry, the lightly raced 4yo Addeybb, of interest. Unraced as a 2yo, he has won three of his five starts, winning his first Handicap, last July (Ascot 1m Good) off a mark of 88. Failing to see out the 1m2f trip next time (Goodwood Soft) he only finished 3rd, but dropped back to 9f for a Class2 Newmarket Handicap eight weeks later he won by 1/2L and a Short Head from Saturday’s opponents, Affak, and Fire brigade. He hasn’t been seen since, (176 days ago), but as seven of the last ten Lincoln Winners were making their seasonal debuts, it shouldn’t be a problem, and the vibes from Newmarket are all positive. The Haggas yard is in form and as a son of Pivotal whose offspring thrive in soft ground, Addeybb has plenty going for him.

The Michael Bell trained Fire Brigade meets his Newmarket conqueror on 2lbs worse terms at the weekend, but he did show improved form when taking a Class2 Leicester Handicap off a 4lbs higher mark a month after that Headquarters heat, and intriguingly, Ryan Moore has deserted Addeybb to take the ride on The Bell horse. Fire Brigade is much the more experienced of the two, and likes it soft (has won over Newmarket’s testing mile on soft), so perhaps Ryan has made the right choice, and might just add a first Lincoln Handicap victory to his C.V.

Top handler, David O’Meara won last year’s renewal with the 20/1 chance, Bravery, and his talented 5yo, Lord Glitters has the ability to go close for David again this year. A winner of four of his nine starts in France, he was purchased for €270,000, and came to the Upper Helmsley yard last October. He has collected nearly £200,000 pounds in prize money from his three starts in England ( a win, and runner up twice) since his arrival, and showed an impressive change of gear to get up in the final strides at Ascot on soft ground (1mile) to collect a monster £155,000 first prize. He is now on a 5lbs higher mark leaving him with top weight of 9-10 to shoulder, a burden last carried to victory by Babodana twenty years ago and obviously faces a stiff task, but I feel we have yet to see the best of this son of American sire, Whipper.

Another French import who has done well since leaving his homeland is the Henry Spiller trained 6yo Leader Writer. Transferred to the Spiller yard last July he won a Class2 Ascot Handicap last September (1 Mile Soft) off a mark of 92. Following a 133 day break he made a satisfactory reappearance on the All Weather at Lingfield, finishing two lengths behind the winner in fourth, off Saturday’s mark of 97. A son of Pivotal he thrives in soft conditions, and there is nothing, up and coming young trainer Henry Spiller, (took over from veteran trainer, Willie Musson at Saville House Stables in 2016) would enjoy more, than victory in such a high profile heat.

The last time a horse older than six prevailed in The Lincoln was when the 8yo Hunters Of Broara won twenty years ago, but if the Robert Eddery trained 7yo Donncha manages to get his head in front on Saturday, he won’t be winning out of turn. He was only beaten a neck in the Doncaster Mile in 2016, and he finished best of all in last years renewal of The Lincoln to come 3rd. He had to be switched at the furlong marker, and flew home, only to be denied by a couple of necks. He only ran four more times after Doncaster, and has been off the racecourse since last July. The handicapper has been generous and dropped him 3lbs, leaving him with a nice racing weight of 9-0. He suffered “the unkindest cut of all” last November, which hopefully has had a beneficial effect, and left the son of Captain Marvellous a more tractable animal, ready to strike a blow for the older horse.

Selection : Fire Brigade

E.W. : Third Time Lucky and Leader writer

John Gray

Preview: Matchbook Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle 2m Sandown Saturday

There are some very strong trends for Saturday’s Imperial Cup, not least the poor record of the more mature contender, as only seven horses older than six have passed the winning post in front in the last thirty three years. In the same period the lighter weights have also dominated, with only five carrying 11-0 or more to victory. The most successful training establishment has been the Pond House Operation of the Pipes with dad, Martin, winning on six occasions, and son, David, collecting three times. They have also been terrifically successful at targeting the bonus, (£100,000 this year) for doubling up with the winner at next week’s Cheltenham’s Festival, landing it three times, with Olympian in 1993, Blowing Wind in 1998, and Gaspara in 2007, all of which makes David’s contender this time, Friday Night Light, Of particular interest.

A 5yo son of Air Chief Marshal, Friday Night Light, won just one of his ten starts, (12f Heavy) on the flat when trained by Elie Lellouche in France, but since joining the Pond House operation last August, he has proved progressive over hurdles. He was successful off a mark of 111 in his third race for the yard, a Newbury Class4 Handicap, (Jan 17 Soft), and put up a decent performance two weeks later to finish second in a Taunton Class3 off a 10lbs higher mark. Stepped up to Class2 level three weeks ago at Ascot, (2m3 1/2f Soft) he was only beaten 1L by Saturday’s opponent, Le Patriote, off a mark of 123. He meets the winner on 3lbs better at the weekend, and with one eye on that bonus, (has two entries at The Festival) it could be close between them.

Another French import is the Alan King trained Fidux, and he also did all his racing in France on the flat, winning two of his nine starts for handler, K.Borgel, before joining the Barbury Castle operation in November 2016. He won his first two races for Mr King, lboth Novice Hurdles. He has drawn a blank in his eight races since, but did seem a tad unlucky unseating his 10lbs claiming rider, Kevin Dowling, at the last when looking the most likely winner of a course and distance heat, (Good/Soft) last November. The winner that day, Maria’s Benefit, is now rated on a mark of 147 and was receiving 7lbs, (Not including Dowling’s 10lbs claim) which does make the King horse look well treated on a mark of 134 at the weekend. He again showed his liking for the track a month later finishing 4th in a Class1 Handicap and can be excused his last run at Taunton,( 2m3f Soft) where he pulled far too hard. He wouldn’t be suited by testing conditions but if the ground is reasonable is one for the shortlist.

One who won’t mind testing conditions is the Dr Newland trained Le Patriote, and as his talented handler trained the 2015 winner, Ebony Express, he will know exactly what is required. Yet another French import, the 6yo son of Poliglote never raced on the flat in his home country but did win two of his seven starts over hurdles, both over 2m2f on testing ground, before joining the Newland yard last November. Taking a very strong hold on his first run for the stable in January, he travelled well but faded before the last (2m5f Kempton Soft) and finished 7th. He was a respectable 4th at Cheltenham a fortnight later but looked much more the finished article when winning that Ascot race from Friday Night Light three weeks ago( 2m3 1/2f ). He is 8lbs higher on Saturday but we may not have seen the best of Le Patriote yet.

The John Quinn trained 6yo Master Of Irony, rated 81 on the flat, won two of his first three Hurdle races last winter, and was second in the other, to leading Stayers Hurdle hope, Sam Spinner. He won comfortably at Wetherby in October and put up his best performance to date two months later, when getting to within 2 1/4L of the very useful High Bridge in the Class1 Gerry Fielden at Newbury. Improved for the addition of cheek pieces he doesn’t look badly treated on a mark of 133 giving him a racing weight of 10-7 and is worth considering.

Assuming Nicky Henderson leaves top weight, Call Me Lord in the race, his other contender, Whatswrongwithyou, will be left with just his original burden of 10-13 to shoulder. The very lightly raced 7yo has only run three times over hurdles, winning the last twice and getting to within a length of the useful Ainchea over Saturday’s course and distance first time up. He was quite impressive when winning his second race from that good yardstick, Ok Corrall, under a largely hands and heels ride, and as the runner up won next time out by 7L, the Henderson horse looks well treated on a mark of 139. It does seem a big ask for such an inexperienced animal to tackle such a competitive heat, but bear in mind that thirteen of the last seventeen winners were Novices, and seven of the last ten had run only five times or fewer over hurdles. Additionally Whatswrongwithyou had no problem dealing with the demands of a sixteen runner point to point, a race he won easily.

Selection: Whatswrongwithyou

E.W. : Friday Night Light

John Gray