Followers of the Oddsguru Blog who backed our EW suggestion, Wakanda, (odds of 16/1 available when first advised) will have left the Merseyside track on good terms with themselves, having seen Sue Smiths 10yo, winning The Peter Marsh Chase
by 1 1/2L from our other selection, Robinsfirth, (Exacta paid 52/1). Wakanda stayed on well and must come into the Aintree picture, but Colin Tizzard’s runner up ran in snatches, and despite rallying, and running on strongly, didn’t seem suited by the track. The Milbourne Port handler will be hoping for better luck when Thistlecrack’s half brother, West Approach, tackles Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle, and will be hoping that the 9yo can emulate his more famous sibling’s victory in 2017.
Having been campaigned over fences in his previous ten outings, (won twice) West Approach reverted to hurdles for the first time since being pulled up in an Aintree Grade1 in April 2017, and ran a most promising race. Starting at odds of 40/1 for the Grade1 JLT Hurdle over 3miles at Ascot (Soft) 5 weeks ago, he travelled strongly throughout, and was only headed after the last by Saturday’s opponent, the exciting Paisley Park, who went on to win by 2L. Obviously he has a bit to find with the winner, and his Cheltenham record isn’t great, (0/12) but that was an excellent effort at Ascot, and coming from this yard, it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise to see him involved at the business end on Saturday.
Devon trainer, Nick Williams, won the contest for the 2nd time last year with Agrapart, and will be hoping the same animal can provide him with a 3rd success on Saturday. Clearly best on testing ground, he came home 3L ahead of Saturday’s opponent, Wholestone, on going described as heavy in last year’s renewal. The 8yo son of Martaline had just the one further outing last term, losing by 2 1/4L at odds of 4/7 to Donna’s Diamond at Haydock in February. He has also failed to shine in both outings this season, but he has a decent record at Prestbury Park (2/4), and with the yard in top form is difficult to ignore, particularly if the ground is testing.
Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park has been something of a revelation since teaming up with top jock, Aidan Coleman this season. The lightly raced 7yo son of Oscar only managed a single victory, ( Class4 Hereford Novices)) from his first 5 starts, but has won all 3 since Coleman took over steering duties this term. Victories on Good ground at Aintree and Haydock preceded a first Grade1 for both horse and rider in The JLT over Ascot’s 3 miles on soft 5 weeks ago. He is now rated 16 lbs higher than he was at the end of last season and this observer for one, doubts very much if that is the limit of this exciting horse’s progress.
Sue Smith who won with Patriarch Express 14 years ago, is also represented by a young horse to fire the imagination, and get the pulse racing, the 6yo, Midnight Shadow. Always held in high regard at the West Yorkshire yard, he started to prove that esteem well founded when winning Scotland’s valuable Champion Hurdle, (2m Handicap Good) last April. Stepped up to 2 1/2miles for his last 2 races, he won an Aintree Handicap off a mark of 141 in early December, and 3 weeks later showed dramatic improvement when putting Wholestone and Old Guard firmly in their place in the Grade2 Relkeel Hurdle over Saturday’s Course, earning a rating of 158. There was no fluke about the Cheltenham win and the Sky looks the limit for this exciting horse, but there has to be a slight doubt about Saturday’s trip. His sire, Midnight Legend is a strong influence for stamina, but his dam, Holy Smoke, is by the sprinter, Statoblast, and his full brother, Unify, was best at 2 1/2m. That said the dam did win over 10f on soft ground at Doncaster, and Midnight Shadow certainly wasn’t stopping up the hill at Cheltenham last time.
The Tom George trained, 8yo, Black Op, has only raced 9 times under rules, winning a NH flat race, and two heats over hurdles, including a Grade 1 at Aintree last April. Clearly very talented, he ran a great race in the Grade1 Ballymore at The Festival, finishing 2nd, 2 3/4L behind Samcro, where he had the subsequent Grade1 winner, Next Destination, 5L back in third. Having failed to make much impression in his first two attempts over fences, he reverts to the smaller obstacles and he could find the step up to 3 miles, (won his sole PTP over 3 miles by 25L) right up his street.
Selection : Paisley Park
EW. : Black Op