With the abandonment of both Ascot and Taunton the ITV cameras will be showing eight races from Lingfield and Haydock although the latter will have to be pass an 8 am inspection. The ground is riding very testing at Haydock and here are my thoughts on those eight.
The grade two Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle is run over just short of two miles and has attracted seven runners. Dan Skelton has his Warwickshire based string in excellent shape now following a quiet start to the year and saddles the favourite in Pembroke who is the one they all have to beat. A winner at Wetherby and Ludlow this season, this does represent a step up in grade but the way he won last time at Ludlow (3rd winner since) suggests he can go close today. He’s got winning form in soft and heavy so the conditions will certainly hold no fear for the six year old. There’s nothing between War Soldier and Matata on their recent course and distance form but this is a further step up in grade and overall I can oppose the pair. Paul Nicholls has a glut of smart novices in his care down in Somerset and saddles Toothless who won a Mickey Mouse race at Fakenham with his head in his chest on his UK debut on New Year’s Day. He’s hard to evaluate but it was a shocker of a race he won. Olly Murphy may have the biggest threat to Pembroke in the unbeaten Chasing Fire who’s won a point to point, bumper and two novice hurdles all easily. He could be smart but my worry with him is he has never raced in ground this testing. Pembroke will do for me with the stable in such fine form and hopefully handling conditions better than Chasing Fire.
PEMBROKE 1 point win @ 13/8 Paddy Power
A dozen go to post for this class 4 10F 0-80 handicap which features many consistent handicappers. Ian William’s Dream Harder is unbeaten since being bought out of Jamie Osborne’s yard with two success’s at Wolverhampton and one at Newcastle rising some 17lb. He’s a player here with James Doyle booked though the only time he raced here he was well beaten so he has to prove his effectiveness at the track. Billy Loughnane is a young jockey going places and his 7lb claim is a gift. He’s on board Pistoletto for John Ryan and having fallen to below his latest winning mark can be competitive. The one I like though is the George Boughey trained Paris Lights who’s making his handicap debut and is to be ridden by Ryan Moore who’s here to ride three for Boughey and could quite easily come away with a treble. Paris Lights joined Boughey from Jessie Harrington in Ireland for 60,000 guineas and was immediately gelded. The gelding made his debut for the Newmarket trainer when beating the Gosden runner Lady Loulou over course and distance back in December and enters handicaps today off of what may well be a lenient mark of 80. With his course experience behind him and the positive jockey booking he’s the pick.
PARIS LIGHTS 2 points win @ 3/1 BetVictor
The New One Unibet Hurdle is named after the Nigel Twiston-Davies hurdler who had such a fine record in this 1m 7 1/2F grade 2 hurdle and has been used in the past as a stepping stone to the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. Six line up today and we have a stand out here in the shape of the Nicky Henderson trained Epatante who has had the misfortune to bump into her freakishly good stable companion Constitution Hill on her last two starts going down by 12L and 17L at Kempton and Newcastle. A winner of the Champion Hurdle herself back in in 2020 and placed in the last two renewals she’s the clear form pick and will be a tough nut to crack. Nigel Twiston-Davies will be keen to win the race named in honour of his The New One and may saddle the biggest threat to the favourite in the shape of I Like To Move It who looked a smart performer when blitzing his field in the Greatwood Hurdle on his re-appearance at Cheltenham but ran a bit flat when beaten 23L at the track seven weeks later over further. Maybe he didn’t stay that day and has only 6lb to find on official ratings so could give Epatante a race of sorts. Both Nells Son and Minella Drama have a bit to find and have been seen chasing recently whilst Jason The Militant (first run for Phil Kirby) and For Pleasure arrive here out of form. This really is Epatante’s to lose under regular rider Aidan Coleman but at the current odds is no value so a no bet race for me.
A decent class 4 7F handicap is up next with a dozen declared. Stuart William’s Lord Rapscallion is chasing a hat trick of wins following two Chelmsford victories in December and should be thereabouts whilst Amy Murphy’s Dancinginthewoods comes here in good form having run credibly at Southwell at the turn of the year. Tony Carroll’s nine year old Poetic Force retains plenty of enthusiasm for the game on his 73rd career start and is just 2lb higher than when winning over course and distance a fortnight ago. If there is one horse here though that could be better than his handicap mark it has to be George Boughey’s All The King’s Men. Boughey is making a bit of a name for himself for improving other trainers cast offs and he has acquired this well bred Kingman gelding, who cost a mere 675,000 euros as a yearling, from Francois Chappet in France. A dual winner there Boughey has gelded him and booked Ryan Moore for his initial run in a handicap. It must of been difficult for the official handicapper to have allotted a mark to this relatively lightly raced (this will be his eleventh career start) five year old and he’s worth chancing here.
ALL THE KING’S MEN 2 points win @ 7/2 Betfred
A very disappointing turnout for the Peter Marsh Handicap Chase with only six lining up. Run over 3M 1 1/2F on heavy ground it will take a real stayer to plunder the first prize. The horse that catches my eye is Nigel Twiston-Davies’s top weight Bristol De Mai who has such a good record at the Lancashire course. His record here reads 111121P14 including three Betfair Chases. He’s getting on a bit now having just turned twelve but appears to retain plenty of enthusiasm for the game and won the Grand National Trial here a year ago off of a handicap mark of 159 and can race today off of a 3lb lower mark. He loves the mud and with conditions very much in his favour can take this from Venetia William’s Fontaine Collonges, a course and distance winner back in November and now 5lb higher. I was a bit disappointed with his recent run when only 4th at Kempton and needs to bounce back here. Coopers Cross is progressive but is 6lb wrong at the weights whilst Sandy Thomson’s Empire Steel will need to have improved for his re-appearance run at Aintree in December to feature at the business end which is of course quite possible. I’ll take Bristol De Mai to take this for the Twiston Davies stable, Daryl Jacob and owners Munir and Souede in the famous double green colours.
BRISTOL DE MAI 2 points win @ 11/4 bet365
The feature race of the day at Lingfield is the £100k guaranteed talkSPORT Winter Oaks, a class 2 handicap run over 10F. Simon and Ed Crisford’s Al Agaila’s latest win had to be seen to be believed as she coasted through what before hand looked a competitive handicap barely coming off of the bridle winning by an eased down 2 1/2L. The handicapper could of put her up any amount but decided on 11lb which my still be on the lenient side. This is of course much tougher but she is a confident selection with James Doyle taking over from Luke Morris. Back in second that day was Harry Eustace’s Makinmedoit with Tequilamockingbird a short head behind in third. They re-oppose on 10lb better terms but such was the superiority of Al Agaila that day it will be a shock if they were to turn the tables. William Haggas’s Morgan Fairy got up close home to win a class 3 handicap over a mile 30 days ago and should appreciate the extra 2f having been raised just 2lb for the win. Top weight Purple Ribbon out ran her odds when runner up in a 12F listed race at Kempton last time but the drop in trip and 12lb rise may be against her. Al Agaila is a confident selection and rates as the days best bet.
AL AGAILA 4 points win @ 6/5 BetVictor
A class 3 3M 58 yard handicap hurdle which in testing ground will take plenty of getting. Ten have declared and there’s potentially a well handicapped horse lurking down the bottom of the handicap in Lucinda Russell’s De Legislator who appears to need a trip on very soft ground. He’s won a point to point and two novice hurdles at Hexham and Kelso and with Patrick Wadge riding claiming 7lb will be running loose off of ten stone 2lb. Itchy Feet and Alnadam have been running over fences recently and the biggest threat to De Legislator may come from Broadway Boy who despite taking a keen hold won a five runner Aintree handicap hurdle, only his third ever run, for the Twiston -Davies’s back in December with the runner up winning since. He should be thereabouts but preference has to be for the unbeaten Lucinda Russell trained bottom weight.
DE LEGISLATOR 2 points win @ 5/2 bet365
Eight speedsters go to post for this class 3 0-95 handicap worth £35,000 guaranteed. Bar the out of form Embour a case can be made for each of the remaining seven with Karl Burke’s Silky Wilkie heading the market following a decent 1 1/4L second to Annaf here over a furlong further than today’s trip last time. That form was boosted by the winner going in again on Thursday evening and the drop in trip for Burke’s four year old shouldn’t hinder him. 7lb apprentice Sam Feilden is his regular rider and is in the hot seat once more. He looks the one they all have to beat. Alice Haynes is an under rated Newmarket based trainer and her Strong Power has an excellent record at the Surrey track winning three of his eight starts here and should be thereabouts although the handicapper may just about have him now. Top weight The Bell Conductor comes down from Yorkshire and should be all the better for his recent 5th of 7 at Southwell on New Years Day (his first for 108 days) and should be competitive. Lord Riddiford and Pop Dancer are others with claims but with his recent form working out well it has to be Silky Wilkie for me.
SILKY WILKIE 2 points win @ 2/1 bet365
All odds quoted were correct at time of writing.