Catching Pigeons: Mor chance in bumper
After a profitable time of things last weekend, our Catching Pigeons column returns with the word from the training centres.
Lough Derg Spirit: Should go well for Henderson at Musselburgh on Sunday.
Buveur D'Air can justify the decision to return him to timber with victory in the Betfred Contenders Hurdle (1.50) at Sandown on Saturday and in the process send the Champion Hurdle ante-post market into further meltdown.
JP McManus's decision to postpone the horse's steeplechase career and aim him at the Champion Hurdle instead was posted as a surprise move when it was announced earlier this week, but it was far from unexpected by some at Seven Barrows and has indeed been roundly welcomed by the Nicky Henderson team, who on the evidence seen so far believe the six-year-old is a much better jumper over hurdles than fences.
They also believe his sharp turn of foot will also be more effective over the smaller obstacles. He certainly impressed in a schooling session under Barry Geraghty at Seven Barrows this week, and it could well be that his quick and precise jumping will see him prove comfortably too good for Irving and course specialist Rayvin Black.
What would an impressive victory mean for the Champion Hurdle prospects of the other members of the McManus squad? Interesting weeks lie ahead for the last remaining ante-post punters.
Behind Time can book his trip to the Festival with victory in the Betfred Mobile Heroes Handicap Hurdle (3.00). Harry Fry hoped to emulate stable star Unowhatimeanharry in 2015 and follow up a win at the Cheltenham Open meeting with victory at the Newbury Hennessy fixture, but he could never get in a blow at the leaders after being held up off a muddling pace at the latter venue, and connections had to be content with fourth. Perhaps the race just came too soon in any case for Behind Time has not run since, but he is reported in good form following his winter break.
Philip Hobbs' Rock The Kasbah boasts some solid form over in good class novice chases from the first half of the season and he can see off the more-experienced Antony in the Betfred Masters Handicap Chase (3.35).
Gaitway (12.25) can give the Henderson team a winning start to an important weekend by landing the opening maiden hurdle at Musselburgh. The valuable and newly-extended two-day Scottish meeting has attracted some high-class performers and this eight year old is certainly high among the pecking order
Although leg problems have so far prevented reailsing his sizeable potential, his return to action at Cheltenham last month suggested he was still capable of making an impact at a high level. Despite finishing only sixth, he travelled strongly for Richard Johnson for most of the way and it was only in the closing stages that his long spell away from racecourse action took its toll.
Given plenty of time to recover from those exertions, he tackles much less daunting company here and the prevailing good ground will suit him well – it's worth recalling that heading into that Cheltenham race, connections rated him at least the equal of stablemate William Henry, who finished second and is firmly on track for the Festival.
Project Bluebook could prove the best bet in an interesting Scottish Triumph Juvenile Hurdle (1.30). There was a strong message for John Quinn's four-year-old over this course and distance 16 days ago and he justified the confidence with an impressive win.
His shrewd trainer, who loves to have winners in Scotland, has chosen this target rather than taking his chance in two tough alternative targets at this meeting, and his experience should allow him to see off talented newcomer Soldier In Action, who also appeared among the Cheltenham Festival entries this week.
Drumcliff is another heading north in search of good ground and he can gain compensation for his unlucky defeat at Kempton last time in the Scottish County Handicap Hurdle (3.15). Harry Fry has always though highly of the six-year-old, and he would have won at the Sunbury course but for meeting serious interference at the second last. He remains on a good mark and his jumping is improving with racing.
Calett Mad is developing into a good young chaser and should make it three from four for Nigel Twiston-Davies in the Grade Two Totepool Towton Novices' Chase (2.45)at Wetherby.
A resolute stayer, the French-bred five-year-old will appreciate the return to a galloping course after trips to Ludlow and Taunton and will be well suited by this demanding three miles and soft ground. He faces a tough opponent in Missed Approach, but looks open to further improvement and may just have a touch more speed than his Warren Greatrex-trained rival.
Greatrex and stable jockey Gavin Sheehan do have a very record at the Yorkshire course and are hoping for a big run from winning Irish pointer Oscar Mor in the Wetherbyracing.co.uk Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (4.25).
Henderson, who has long been a big supporter of the meeting, fields another very strong team at Musselburgh on Sunday and one of the more interesting is Lough Derg Spirit in the Sky Bet Supreme Scottish Trial Novices' Hurdle (2.40).
The ex-Irish pointer was expected to win well on his debut for Seven Barrows at Kempton in November and he duly delivered, but then ran well below expectations at Ascot. He is back in good form and deserves another chance, despite the presence of the highly-rated Peter The Mayo Man from the Neil Mulholland stable.
Much excitement in Newmarket this week has come with the opening of the Grass Canter and this year's new location, adjacent to the Moulton Road, afforded passing traffic with the perfect chance to watch some of the new juvenile crop being put through their paces, with Sir Michael Stoute and the Godolphin armies among those keen to take advantage of the fresh sod.
The principal Flat action comes at Lingfield when Grendisar bids to win the Winter Derby Trial (3.05) for the third consecutive year. Questions have been raised over the seven-year-old's wellbeing after his latest couple of defeats but he really looked in great order when given a final blow-out by Marco Botti this week and his trainer is convinced he still has it in his legs to see off this smart field.
Arab Spring is reportedly as ready as he can be for his first start of 2017, but giving 5lb to Grendisar may just prove too big a challenge.
Pretend (2.00) was quite easy to back ahead of his recent return at Kempton, but cantered home in a conditions event. Things do need to go his way, but this contest has always been on the agenda on his way back to All-Weather Finals Day and connections are most optimistic about his prospects.
A stall one draw means he will have to be dropped out in the early stages, but that categorically won't be the case for Come On Dave (2.30) in the following Betway Best Odds Handicap back over the minimum trip. He is well up to defying his present mark when the cards fall right for him and an uncontested early advantage would give him major claims.
Frankel and Galileo turn up for an unlikely clash on the all-weather at Newcastle in the evening when their respective offspring, Touch Of Paradise and Garrick, do battle in the Sun Bets Maiden Stakes (7.15) over a mile.
Touch Of Paradise arrived with Richard Fahey having reportedly shown precious little to draw comparisons between him and his sire or his Classic-winning dam Ramruma, but she showed ability first time out over track and trip.
However, it is the John Gosden-trained Galileo colt Garrick who gets the vote here, with his trainer having kept back some nice maidens for this time of year.
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