Catching Pigeons: Time for revival
Our Catching Pigeons column is back with all the gossip ahead of the weekend's action at Doncaster, Cheltenham and Lingfield.
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Paul Webber will be hoping that Time For Rupert can show he is no back number with a big run in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.
Notoriously difficult to train and now a ten-year-old, "Rupert" has recently looked a shadow of his glory days during which he chased home Big Buck's in the World Hurdle and was beaten less than ten lengths in Synchronised's Gold Cup.
However the handicapper has now given him a chance by dropping down to 143 and his trainer has certainly tried hard to get him in prime nick for this race with "away days" to the Compton gallops in Berkshire and Edgecote in the Cotswolds.
The £75,000 feature also affords National Hunt legend Andy Turnell the chance to get back into the limelight with The Druids Nephew.
He looks very nicely weighted on his best form and produced his best effort of the season so far when second at Chepstow on his latest start. Both the winner and runner up in the Welsh National were behind him, and this return to a flat galloping track should play to his strengths.
Elmore Back can get the meeting off to a good start in the Sky Bet Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Hurdle.
Charlie Mann's gelding has run two good races in hot novice events at Taunton and on this course last month and does not look too harshly treated for his handicap debut.
Sausalito Sunrise, from the bang-in-form Philip Hobbs' team, has been improving steadily and he looks ready for a step up to Grade Two class in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. His recent work suggests he is continuing to progress.
Nicky Henderson's best chance of a winner on Saturday could be Kentucky Hyden in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham.
Although beaten on his last two starts, he will enjoy the prevailing ground here much more than on his previous visit to the track, and seemed to go a bit too fast for his own good early on at Chepstow last time. He did well to finish second, and a win here would keep him just in front of Dawalan in the Seven Barrows pecking order for the big race itself in March.
There are a number of racing pundits who think the Hennessy result could have a bearing on both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National and they will be hoping to see Rocky Creek, the brave runner up at Newbury, take the Argento Chase.
He was found to be not himself after chasing home the progressive Triolo D'Alene, but is now back in good form and should have no problem handling the testing ground.
It may pay to take a chance with Our Mick in the freebets.com Trophy Handicap Chase. He was our fancy in this race 12 months ago and was still travelling strongly when disaster struck at the third last. He has thrown in a few bad runs over longer trips since then, but he is coming off a nice break here and is five pounds lower than 12 months ago
Samingarry can confirm his Chepstow form with Anacotty in the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase. Nigel Hawke does well with his small team and this seven year old looked an improving sort when seeing off his rival at the Welsh course.
Martin Keighley can rightly say that the runner-up stepped up considerably on that performance for the fitting of blinkers when landing the Grade One at Kempton, but he faces a tough test at the weights here and must answer the questions, will the blinds work as well again and just how good a race was the Feltham this year?
Snake Eyes is arguably Henderson's most interesting runner of the day in the Boylesports at Leopardstown. A high class bumper horse, he has proved disappointing so far over hurdles. However, there have been excuses for him and if he does get his act together in this competitive handicap, he will go well.
Connections will be hoping the ground is not too soft and he is able to make the most of what is a smart turn of foot.
Charlie Hills had a miserable start of the New Year after the setback to Chriselliam, but his all weather team are running well and Late Night Mark is expected to go well on his debut in the Download The Ladbrokes App Maiden Stakes at Lingfield.
His work on the Faringdon Road gallops has been very good and a big run is anticipated despite the fact he has been given the outside stall. Whatever happens, he is one to note.
However, Ed Walker's Clear Spell carries plenty of stable confidence into the same race. It's interesting to note the trainer now has his name on the rear entrance to Warren Place in Newmarket.
Things continue to gather pace ahead of the Turf flat season despite the bleak, cold, dark mornings. Telescope has been cantering this week while leading QIPCO 2000 Guineas fancy Kingman was trotting round Side Hill.
The big batallions are beginning to get to work with their new ammunition. More Godolphin yearlings than ever stayed in the UK over the autumn, Saeed bin Suroor taking charge of a team of around 80.
William Haggas' status as one of the biggest trainers in the game right now is confirmed by a two-year-old team of over 90.
Jeremy Noseda has been in the headlines, helping Frankie Dettori back into the swing of things, but less well publicised has been his move - at great personal expense - to give Soldier's Tale a happy retirement.
He was a Group One winner for the trainer at Royal Ascot in 2007 but after problems during a stud career in Australia, was in need of a new home. That, thanks to Noseda, will now be his Shalfleet Stables.