Brook no argument
Simon Holt previews the weekend's feature action from Ffos Las and Sandown.
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Ffos Las, the newest racecourse in the country, stages it's biggest meeting of the whole year on Saturday featuring the William Hill Welsh Champion Hurdle which has attracted a competitive line-up now opened to a limited handicap for the first time.
With Barry Geraghty on duty at Sandown, 17-times champion jockey (unbelievable isn't it?!) Tony McCoy comes in for the ride aboard top weight OSCARA DARA who, despite going up a stone in the weights for winning the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle at Kempton last month, is fancied to follow up.
Nicky Henderson's gelding, a game second over fences at Plumpton on his reappearance, clearly appreciated the return to the smaller obstacles at the Costa del Sunbury despite a fluff at the final flight but for which he would have won more easily.
This is no small task conceding weight all round but very few of his rivals look anything other than exposed off their current handicap ratings whereas Oscara Dara, a good fourth to his classy stable-mate Darlan at Aintree in the spring before winning at Punchestown, still has pretentions to being a bit better. With the assistance of McCoy a massive plus, I reckon his class can prove decisive.
Perhaps the other runner with scope for improvement is Tanerko Emery who runs in the colours of Ffos Las impresario Dai Walters.
It was impressive how this horse picked up in deep ground under a big weight at Lingfield last time and, while the opposition was pretty moderate that day (certainly compared to his rivals here), there is little doubt that the David Pipe-trained French import is progressing nicely.
I have been a fan of other runners like Balder Succes, Double Ross and Medinas but the first-named needs to put a bad run in the Ladbroke behind him here while the other two - admirable as they are - seem to have nothing in hand of the handicapper.
The Welsh Champion is complemented by the William Hill West Wales National in which CANNINGTON BROOK can add to his incredibly gutsy defeat of the in-form Merry King in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock last time.
Outclassed behind Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase last March and behind Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase in November, Colin Tizzard's stayer is clearly below the top level but is a more than decent handicapper.
A reproduction of that last victory (even accounting for a 6lb rise in the weights) will see Cannington Brook hard to beat here in conditions which should suit him well.
Of the opposition, Red Rocco and Shaking Hands both seek hat-tricks but now face a rise in class and the chief danger to the selection on his best form would be Alfie Spinner, though he was rather disappointing at Sandown on his latest start.
Meanwhile, Sandown's all-chase card has cut-up somewhat though Captain Conan will attract plenty of attention on his first attempt at two-and-a-half miles in the big novices' chase known best as the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase.
It will be surprising if this promising novice cannot make it three out of three over fences and better value could be available with the bottom-weighted ON TREND in the Betfred Masters Handicap Chase.
Nick Gifford's gelding gets a 4lb pull - plus Tom Cannon's 3lb allowance - with Brackloon High for less than a two length beating at Kempton last time while he ran out an easy 19-length winner from Master Hyde (admittedly an improved performer since but 7lb worse off) at Towcester last season.