Alex Hammond: Cheltenham bound
Hi everyone! It's been an exciting week as I learned that I have been accepted to ride in the St Patrick's Derby, a charity Flat race on the Thursday of the Cheltenham Festival.
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I don't know about you, but my love of racing was fuelled by watching racing from National Hunt's HQ and to think I'm going to get the opportunity to ride there is thrilling. Now you know why I've started to ride out again and hopefully all the fitness training that I do will pay off.
I shall be putting in even more work to try and be as fit as possible in order to do my horse justice. I don't know what horse I'll be riding yet, but I can tell you it will be trained by fellow columnist Richard Fahey and I'm very privileged to be riding for such a good trainer.
Of course there is a serious reason for taking part and I'm riding in memory of a guy called Richard Berry. A greater man you would struggle to meet and when cancer claimed him at the age of 35 two years ago he left behind my best friend Becci and their two young daughters.
So, as you can see it's a really worthwhile cause. I've set up a donations page which can be found at www.justgiving.com/SkySportsAlexH and I would love it if any of you feel you could spare a £1 or more to go towards my fundraising efforts.
My target is £5,000, but obviously there is no limit and any donations large or small are gratefully received. I've posted some pictures on the page too which hopefully you will find interesting, including an archive shot of me riding at Haydock many moons ago!
So, all being well I may be able to give you the inside track on what I'll be riding nearer the time.
For now though let's take a look at this weekend's action. The Lanzarote Hurdle is Kempton's feature and a few of the more fancied runners in the ante-post market sadly haven't been declared.
Nicky Henderson looks a force to be reckoned with this season and he once again goes up against his title rival Paul Nicholls in this. Henderson is represented by favourite Bear's Affair (7/2) who has to shoulder top weight in this listed 2 mile 5 furlong handicap hurdle.
Jeremiah McGrath takes off a very valuable 5lbs thanks to his conditional jockeys allowance. He won on the horse at Aintree last time out in December which was his first run of the season. It's been said he goes better when fresh and with just over a month since his last run hopefully he should be fine.
Nicholls saddles Black Thunder (6/1) who ran well in defeat at Haydock last time out. He was well fancied that day and connections were disappointed he was just touched off. He was raised 6lbs for that run but he's a gorgeous big horse and I've no doubt he is still on the up.
I was lucky enough to ride this horse at Ditcheat when we did some filming for Sky Sports News and he has plenty of size and scope and will make a lovely chaser in time. Nicholls has also chosen to claim off this horse too and his nephew Harry Derham takes 5lbs off.
Oscar Dara is 7/1 and is another from the Henderson stable, this one will be ridden by Barry Geraghty. It's a first handicap outing for this horse who made his chase debut at Plumpton last time out and is reverting to hurdles again here on ground that should suit him well.
Loose Chips (10/1) has been raised a hefty 20lbs for his two recent wins. He is trained by Charlie Longsdon who could have a good weekend.
Araldur is an 11/1 shot for Alan King, the horse won a competitive handicap hurdle at Sandown a month ago. He had been off before that with a tendon injury and the win was a surprise to connections so he should be sharper for the run.
Buck Magic and Captain Sunshine are both 12/1. The former is trained by Neil Mulholland, I was lucky enough to ride out at Neil's yard this week and his horses look magnificent and are running very well.
This horse won a decent conditional jockeys handicap hurdle at Cheltenham last time out and looks the sort who can progress again. He was put up 8lbs for that, but that wouldn't worry me and he could be a good each way option in this.
Emma Lavelle trains Captain Sunshine who has been dropped a couple of pounds for his latest efforts, but isn't without a chance unless the ground gets testing. I'm with Black Thunder as he's a lovely sort who can keep progressing for Paul Nicholls.
To Warwick now and the Classic Chase is the feature. This 3 mile 5 furlong Grade 3 Handicap Chase has attracted 13 runners headed by Pete the Feat who is 3/1 favourite with Sky Bet.
The horse has enjoyed a purple patch having won his last five races including the Mandarin Handicap Chase which we tipped up here on the blog. His trainer Charlie Longsdon is doing really well and this horse is unbeaten for his new handler since joining him this season. He was raised 9lbs for that Newbury win last time out but his improvement has been extraordinary and it may not be over yet.
Conditions suit him and Noel Fehily takes the ride once again. I'd be a bit concerned about the fact he has had a few races on the bounce and at the prices I'm happy to take him on this time.
It would be great to see Bradley win for Fergal O'Brien - he's 6/1. O'Brien is doing well since venturing out on his own and Nigel Twiston-Davies' former assistant will be hoping for some decent winners this season and this horse could be one of them to fly the flag in long distance chases.
He can be forgiven his run on testing ground at Cheltenham last time out and his form prior to that looks decent. He was 2nd to subsequent Welsh National winner Monbeg Dude the time before that and he could still be on a reasonable mark. The ground is described as soft at Warwick and that will suit him well.
Restless Harry is another on 6/1. He made all to win a graduation chase at Newbury last time out but this former smart hurdler doesn't always jump fluently over fences which is a slight worry.
Rigadin de Beauchene (7/1) represents a trainer in great form. Venetia Williams has a 29% strike rate this month and she will be hoping this horse can get another win to his name. He's only won one race to date and I'm not convinced he wants a trip this far (he will probably go and prove me wrong now!).
Godsmejudge is worth a second look for Alan King. He is 9/1 which looks a fair price for this unexposed 7 year-old who is having just his 4th start over fences. He is just 5lbs higher for his latest win at Folkestone but this novice stays and jumps well and the yard have done well in this race of late. I like him, but I'm going to go with Bradley to give Fergal O'Brien a winner.
Staying at Warwick and Timmy Murphy returns from injury to ride The Package for David Pipe in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle. The horse finished fourth in the Hennessy on his last start under Tom Scudamore just 24 hours after Murphy had suffered a couple of fractured vertebrae in a fall at Newbury.
I think this horse can provide Timmy with a welcome winner as he is well handicapped over hurdles (as are some of his rivals) and his recent form looks good in the context of this race.
Good luck with all your selections over the weekend and don't forget check out www.justgiving.com/SkySportsAlexH where I'll also keep you up to date with my progress ahead of the Cheltenham charity race.