Alex Hammond: National treasure
It's amazing how quickly things turn around.
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Kempton's Racing Plus Chase on Saturday could be run on ground just on the soft side of good after a drying week which is in stark contrast to the ground we have been used to for what seems like an age.
With Cheltenham under three weeks away this race should give us some clues for the next major national hunt target, the John Smith's Grand National.
JP McManus dug deep once again to buy Wyck Hill who is 11/4 favourite with Sky Bet for this race and currently 20s for Aintree. That won't be around for long with a bold show in this 3 mile Grade 3 Handicap Chase.
David Bridgwater has been training for some time, but this former jump jockey is quietly doing a great job with his horses and deserves a few more top class horses. With JP giving him a vote of confidence he should attract that quality of horse. Although I fancy this horse, his price will inevitably be shorter now and it may not appeal in a race this competitive.
Rolling Aces is 100/30 second best in the market for the powerful combination of Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh. He is a novice with only 3 runs over fences to date, although he is the winner of an Irish point a couple of years ago. He handles this better ground and is one to be wary of off his current mark.
We often use the phrase 'horses for courses' but in this it 'horse for race' as Nacarat bids to win it for the third time. He won last year off a mark of 154 and is rated 155 this time round.
Although he is 12 years old now, he is raced sparingly and the drying ground has come at the right time for him. Everything points towards another bold show for Tom George's grey who is 8/1 to land his three timer.
Opening Batsman is an interesting runner for Harry Fry and trades at 10/1. He is also a novice and is 2 out of 3 over fences. He has a host of entries at Cheltenham and could run a big race in this. He jumps well given his relative lack of experience and seems to suit front running tactics.
His only defeat over fences came behind Rolling Aces, but he gets a decent weight pull from that runner here. The trip will suit him well, as will the ground and I think he offers value on Saturday.
Philip Hobbs likes to target this race and he runs Quinz (14/1) and Duke of Lucca (12/1) with the former the pick of Dickie Johnson. That horse came here as a novice in 2011 and won this race off a mark of 144 and he runs off the same mark this time round. The reason he is off the same mark is because his next start after that win came in the Grand National and it appeared to have a detrimental effect, he pulled up at Aintree and has done the same in two subsequent starts.
He hasn't run since December 2011 and hopefully he can put that behind him now. He was reported to have broken blood vessels on 2 of his last 3 starts and he maybe best caught fresh.
Roberto Goldback (12s) beat Duke of Lucca at Ascot in November. He then pulled up in the Hennessy and hasn't had his ground in two starts since. His trainer Nicky Henderson will be pleased to see conditions have improved. He can't be written off either in this hot contest.
Last year's second Hector's Choice lines up again and is a 16/1 shot for trainer Richard Lee, he is rated a 1lb lower than last year. So, will it be the old guard or will a young pretender come and take the crown? There are cases to be made for a few of these, but I think Harry Fry can win it with Opening Batsman and he appeals most at the prices.
Elsewhere, there is a decent card at Fairyhouse on Saturday with the Bobbyjo Chase the feature. The race will give us more National pointers with the likes of Prince de Beauchene and Seabass holding entries.
They are 9/1 and 14/1 respectively for the National with Sky Bet and I really like the look of Seabass for the Aintree race at this stage.
Seabass ran a brilliant race on his reappearance over hurdles and I expect a bold show if he lines up in this.
Prince de Beauchene is joint market leader for the National for Willie Mullins with stablemate On His Own who won this week in Ireland. Mullins has a really strong National entry. One thing is for sure we will no doubt have fairly strong views on the race after this weekend's action, I hope Seabass will still be high up on my list.