Catching Pigeons: Great Scott
Our Catching Pigeons column previews the weekend action and reckons Melodic Rendezvous can return to form.
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It usually pays to take a sceptical view about horses coming back from injuries, but Melodic Rendezvous could be capable of bucking that trend in the Stanjames.com Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.
Whether any of the six declared runners will make it to the big race at Cheltenham in March remains to be seen, despite its ever-ambitious title, but at least it has attracted a couple of possible starters in this horse and Ptit Zig, who battled like a trooper through the mud when second in the Ladbroke at Ascot last time.
Melodic Rendezvous has been off the course since being found to have a muscle injury after his disappointing performance in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, a problem which trainer Jeremy Scott reckons might have arisen when the horse slipped on the home turn on his way to victory at Wincanton on his previous start.
Scott originally thought this Haydock contest was going to come too soon for Melodic Rendezvous, but his last couple of pieces of work proved so impressive that his hand was slightly forced.
Ptit Zig is a smart performer, but he doesn't have quite the same sort of acceleration as on-song Melodic Rendezvous, and despite slight concerns over his fitness after the enforced absence, Scott's runner is fancied to outsprint his rival close home.
Another horse who might emerge from the meeting as a Cheltenham contender is Benvolio, who was well fancied by the Nicholls camp when outstaying his rivals at Newbury last time - he can confirm his ticket to the National Hunt Chase in the G4S Events Graduation Chase.
A tilt at the four-miler was mentioned immediately after that win, and his seemingly limitless stamina should allow him to see off the smart hurdler Trustan Times, who has yet to set the world alight over the larger obstacles.
Interestingly, this two-mile five-furlong trip is arguably on the sharp side for all five of these runners, so tactics are likely to play a part. Hopefully Daryl Jacob can ride a nice positive race on Benvolio and avoid the prospect of the contest turning into a sprint.
Venetia Williams continues in great form and she should go close with Katenko in the Peter Marsh Limited Handicap Chase.
He looked upwardly mobile after winning two good handicap chases last season, but has not so far reproduced the same level this term after a well-publicised colic scare.
This return to handicapping should see him do much better however, especially as he is back on testing ground for the first time since his impressive win at Cheltenham just under a year ago.
Connections hope he has just needed time to recapture form and there are certainly no indications at home that his battle for health has left any permanent scars.
Another trainer in cracking form at present is Philip Hobbs and his The Skyfarmer is the selection for the Keltbray Holloway's Hurdle at Ascot.
The form of his latest victory over Lyvius received a good boost and the 17lb rise in the weights he was hit with for his latest win doesn't seem quite so harsh now.
Hobbs saw The Skyfarmer as more of a chasing prospect until that latest victory, but he's clearly a highly-progressive performer.
There is a concern going into this contest about his ability to handle very testing conditions, but Hobbs is hopeful and such fears could well be compensated in his price.
Call The Cops could also offer some value in the closing EBF Stallions National Hunt Novices' Hurdle Qualifier.
Despite the small field, this looks a decent contest. However, Call The Cops improved from his first outing over hurdles at Southwell to win very well at Towcester on his latest start and connections feel there is still plenty more to come.
He handled the soft well last time out, and his work suggests he deserves to have a go at this higher level.
Stablemate Utopie des Bordes should also be forgiven her below par run under a big weight at Kempton over Christmas and is worth a small bet in the mares' hurdle earlier on the card.
Prior to that performance, her form reads very well and the fact she is not built to carry big weights in handicaps suggests she will appreciate the return to a conditions event.
Frankie Dettori caused a stir when riding work in Newmarket during the week and is expected back in racecourse action at Lingfield on Wednesday.
Having partnered Consign for Jeremy Noseda on Tuesday, he was aboard stablemate Gone With The Wind the following day (he was hard to miss despite sporting a differently-coloured cap) and it's that colt upon which his comeback is now scheduled to take place.
Noseda is one of only a handful of trainers doing regular serious workouts on the Al Bahathri in town, but William Haggas gave a few a decent blowout in midweek.
Timeless War showed definite ability but got himself into a bit of a lather and it's no surprise to see him sporting blinkers in a very winnable-looking second division of the 32Red Maiden Stakes at Lingfield.