Alex Hammond: Flemen can Star
The flat season draws to a close this weekend with the November Handicap at Doncaster the feature race for punters.
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23 horses have been declared for the mile and a half contest with First Mohican is Sky Bet's 100/30 favourite. He is a difficult horse for the handicapper to assess and could still be well treated off a mark of 100. The reason being, that the 4 year-old is unbeaten in his 3 starts and was held in such high regard by trainer Henry Cecil that he was thought of as a Derby prospect after his sole start as a juvenile.
However, he missed his Classic campaign after fracturing his knee and missing the best part of 2 years. He looked impressive when winning at Nottingham last time out and now he has had the required three runs to get him into this race he could cap off an extraordinary year for his trainer. It's his first try at the trip, but on pedigree that shouldn't be a problem.
Nicholascopernicus is next best at 15/2 but his trainer Ed Walker was hoping for more testing ground than the forecast good ground on Town Moor. Clayton (10/1) has a handy weight for Kevin Ryan who has booked Jimmy Quinn to ride. Kirthill is one of two horses at 11/1 with Sky Bet.
He is trained by Luca Cumani and Kieren Fallon is booked for the ride. They are a combination that I always look out for in handicaps like this, but never have much luck with!
Blue Surf is the other 11/1 shot for Amanda Perrett and Jim Crowley. This is a horse I really like and he comes here off the back of a win at Newbury over 10 furlongs. Although he hasn't won over this trip there is plenty to recommend him on pedigree.
The Tiger (12/1) is another progressive horse. Ed Dunlop's charge has won his last two including over this trip and any more rain would aid his chances. Graham Lee has won on him the last twice, but he can't do the 8stone 5 and rides Dunlop's other runner Voodoo Prince (16s) whom he won on at Ripon earlier in the season.
Party Line (12/1) is another off a light weight. Joe Fanning rides for Mark Johnston and she stays the trip well and comes here in good form. I'm going to go with Blue Surf and hope there is further improvement to come over this mile and a half.
There is some decent jumping as well with the Elite Hurdle and Badger Ales Chase at Wincanton. The Elite Hurdle could see the reappearance of Zarkandar who at the time of writing had Daryl Jacob down to ride him. He could be better for another summer on his back.
Potential rivals include Alan King's Balder Success, Prospect Wells, Baby Mix who should be sharper for his reappearance for trainer Tom George and Steve Golings' smart hurdler Local Hero.
Ruby Walsh is down for Prospect Wells which tell us what we need to know with regard stable first string (Paul Nicholls also has Escort'men entered and could run all three). It's hard to get away from the strong challenge and one can only assume that Ruby's mount is the pick.
The Tizzard's have their team of horses in great form as a high profile double at Exeter in the week advertised. It was great to see Cue Card win with such authority in the Haldon Gold Cup and I'm looking forward to seeing him in the King George although he showed so much pace there that a drop in trip wouldn't inconvenience him.
They have Golden Chieftain in the Badger Ales Chase. The horse was very impressive in a handicap chase at Worcester last time out although his rated has gone up accordingly. He will have to find a bit more again.
Paul Nicholls has a good recent record in this race and he has Michel le Bon entered. The horse has been targeted at this race and merits plenty of respect. There are some big names entered too, including Diamond Harry who bypassed last weekend's Charlie Hall Chase due to a knock, National Hunt Chase winner Teaforthree who isn't certain to line up according to trainer Rebecca Curtis, who also has Old Wigmore at the of the handicap, although he also has an alternative engagement.
Nicky Henderson has made a flying start to the season and his Prince of Pirates is an interesting horse. Once again I think P Nicholls will saddle the winner.
Staying at Wincanton and watch out for possible chase debutante Dynaste who is entered in the Rising Stars Novices' Chase for David Pipe.
Some of Ireland's big guns are out on Sunday with Big Zeb and Sizing Europe entered in the Fortria Chase at Navan. The race has been won by Colm Murphy's Big Zeb for the past three years and the trainer is pleased with the 11 year old ahead of his reappearance here. S
izing Europe was due to run in the JNWine Champion Chase at Down Royal last weekend but the ground was too soft and he was taken out. So the old adversaries could take each other on again and although Sizing Europe is rated much higher than Big Zeb this is a lucky race for Zeb and he can go well again after a summer break.
It could be that Sizing Europe runs in Clonmel instead and this 2 mile contest could well cut up. If it does then last year's leading 2m 4f Novice Chaser Flemenstar is worth a second look. Although he isn't 100% fit yet (which of these top jumpers are at this stage of the season?) he can have a nice pipe opener. His later targets will be over further than this trip, but he is class and that may carry him through.
One thing that the end of the flat season signals is that top class jumping is just around the corner and next week we look forward to the first major targets of the new season at Cheltenham.
I'll also be giving you my ten horses to follow on Sky Sports News from Monday and will be live from two of the biggest yards in the country on Wednesday and Thursday, join me then.