Catching Pigeons: Go Big!
Our Catching Pigeons column rounds up the news from training centres around the country ahead of Festival Trials Day at Cheltenham.
Bigbadjohn looks nicely weighted for his handicap debut
Bigbadjohn didn't come too close to upsetting the mighty Thistlecrack when he hacked up at the Newbury Hennessy meeting, but he has a much easier task in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on Saturday.
Rebecca Curtis's gelding had previously won in the manner of a very useful performer at Newbury, and looks nicely weighted for his first venture into a handicap.
His jumping will be put to the test here, but he looks solid enough over the obstacles and may have a fitness edge over Southfield Royale, who was a top novice on this side of the Irish Sea last season, and should pay to follow this spring after overcoming injury problems.
It doesn't always work out as planned as connections of Saphir Du Rheu will testify but the 2015 World Hurdle second can bring a long held plan to a successful conclusion with victory in the Hugo's Restaurant Barbados Trophy.
Paul Nicholls and owner Andy Stewart have many happy memories of Cheltenham, but a win for this so far slightly disappointing performer will be of great significance to both men and in particular to the Barbadophile Stewart given this race, and the diner, celebrates his grandson. Saphir du Rheu has not raced since falling in the Hennessy at Newbury in November, but his trainer has him in great nick and he has an obvious chance here on his fourth to Antony in a very good handicap at Ascot on his comeback.
Staying at Cheltenham where Singlefarmpayment has looked very much at home over both hurdles and fences and he should go close in a competitive Timeform Novices Handicap Chase.
Tom George took over the training of this gelding from Tom Lacey during the summer, and he has coaxed plenty of improvement in his three outings this term. He took some useful scalps when winning here seven weeks ago, and should find sufficient improvement to overcome the resulting hike in his rating.
Divine Spear, a good looking chasing type, should be suited by this more galloping course after breaking his duck for the season at Fontwell over Christmas, and looks worth an each-way interest in the Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle. He remains at the right end of the handicap and is just preferred to old Kempton sparring partners Bigmartre and Drumcliff.
Divine Spear's trainer Nicky Henderson has high hopes for the future for Constantine Bay.
The ex-pointer, who has won both his races over timber so far at Haydock and Chepstow, should enjoy the step up to three miles in the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices Hurdle. Although he has yet to race on good ground, his stamina should come into play on this step up to three miles and he gets a narrow vote ahead of West Country raiders Strong Pursuit and Give Me A Copper.
The action at Uttoxeter may not steal the headlines but that's no reason to overlook The Fresh Prince who can take advantage of a drop in class in the SSJ Electrical Handicap Chase.
Oliver Sherwood will have his attentions firmly fixed on the ultra well Many Clouds v Thistlecrack in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham – but he will spare an eye for this useful gelding, who was still travelling well when falling four out in a much better race than this at Aintree last month. He looks well handicapped, especially with his capable partner Harry Beswick taking off a handy 10lbs.
Amberjam, a winner of a handicap hurdle on his return from a two year absence on this course last month, can initiate a double for Sherwood in the Actionclad Novices Handicap Chase. He has schooled well.
Some of the biggest names in Newmarket have been spotted stretching their legs this week, with connections of Postponed and Jack Hobbs among those eyeing a possible trip to Meydan.
Sir Michael Stoute has a target a little closer to home in mind for Arab Spring, who looked in fine fettle working with one other on the Al Bathri ahead of next month's Winter Derby at Lingfield.
There's nothing quite so prestigious as that Group Three prize up for grabs at the Surrey venue this weekend but John Gosden's Oxford Thinking can make light work of a weak-looking Sun Bets On The App Store Maiden Stakes on Saturday.
Keenness did for the Holy Roman Emperor colt when a disappointing fourth at Newcastle recently but he'd shown a reasonable level of form on his first two public appearances and dropping to seven furlongs, around the tight turns of Lingfield, looks destined to suit.
He was ridden by Rab Havlin last time but with the newly-wed understandably taking a few days off after partying into the night up at the racecourse over the weekend, Nicky Mackay is an able deputy.
The Sun Bets On The App Store Handicap is awfully competitive but Somethingthrilling is well worth another chance after letting down odds-on backers at Wolverhampton. He returns to the scene of his previous win, when beating the subsequent handicap scorer Summer Icon by two and a quarter lengths, and can get back on an upward trajectory.
Horsted Keynes could be the main danger for the in-form David Simcock, but his best efforts have come when racing prominently and that doesn't look likely from stall eight with Jamie Spencer back in the plate.
Spencer teams up with Jeremy Noseda on Novis Adventures in the Betway Handicap and the five-year-old worked well on the Al Bahathri after finishing fifth to Pinzolo last time out but the addition of blinkers highlights he's not been the most straightforward and he's probably best watched.
The yard has a much stronger fancy in the shape of Keystroke in Kempton's 32Red Handicap.
He couldn't quite go through with his effort after making the smoothest of progress two furlongs out at Newcastle but there's a strong suspicion he remains on a workable mark and those in the Noseda camp are expecting big things as he drops to seven furlongs for the first time in his career.
Lord Napier helps bolster Kirby's hand further as the Galileo gelding drops a full half-mile from two miles in the 32Red On The App Store Maiden Stakes, but Garam is an even stronger fancy half an hour later in the 32Red.com Handicap.
The Hugo Palmer-trained filly still looked to have plenty of learning to do when making a successful start in a Wolverhampton maiden and an introductory mark of 78 doesn't look too taxing based on her subsequent homework.
She can keep the ball rolling for Josephine Gordon, who has ridden winners for Ian Williams and David Griffiths in recent days.
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