Jumps Notebook: Crunch time
Our man Will Hayler is back with the latest edition of his Notebook and updates on all of the horses to have caught his eye.
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It's do-or-die time for a couple of horses in my Notebook list on Sunday. Given that both have the conditions which I reckon they ideally need, I may well end up with some serious egg on my face by the end of play.
Imperial Vic was a shade disappointing on his latest start, but may not have appreciated the really testing going and, in any case, winner Vintage Star gave the form a pretty solid look when pushing the well-handicapped Hey Big Spender all of the way in the Rehearsal Chase last weekend.
I won't repeat myself as to what he's done to impress me to this point, but he jumps well, gallops forever and sticks his head out like a horse who wants to win.
The four miles of the Persimmon Homes Borders National at Kelso might turn out to stretch him, but I don't think it will - indeed, I'd bet it won't.
When I said that better ground, a longer trip and a switch to handicaps might be the making of Lakefield Rebel, I wasn't necessarily thinking of a mark of 99 (harsh enough on his bare achievements over hurdles or three miles and three furlongs) - nearly a mile further than he has tackled since going under Rules.
However we are where we are and I'll be risking a few quid on him in the Lazy Grace 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle. He's really only got going once the race was over on all three starts for Harry Hogarth this season and this represents by a long way his easiest and most suitable opportunity.
My hunch is that when his trainer paid £26,000 for him as a point-to-point winner at the Doncaster Sales some 18 months ago he had something a little better than this in mind, but victory would be a step in the right direction.
Sire De Grugy fulfilled my expectations when taking Saturday's Tingle Creek Chase.
Jamie Moore put right the mistakes of their previous start at Cheltenham in some style and he looks at least the second-best two-mile chaser in training, although I suppose Simonsig might have something to say about that at some point.
Connections apparently aren't convinced that he enjoys the fences - or the track - at Cheltenham, so a clash with Sprinter Sacre in the Champion Chase next March may not occur.
But it could happen at Kempton in the Desert Orchid Chase if Nicky Henderson decides to point the champion in that direction. Personally, I'd love it - and I bet Kempton would too as the race is crying out for a big name or two to boost its profile.
I can hardly take Sire De Grugy off the list now as I'm still not entirely convinced he wouldn't have been capable of better in an even faster-run race.
Milord was more disappointing on the same card and now sits in the last-chance saloon.
Just as last time, the race wasn't really run at a fast enough pace for him, but it didn't stop wayward winner Deep Trouble coming from last to a first (and the best bet of all is now that the handicapper takes a second look at the ratings of the Cheltenham handicap in which he chased home Quick Jack last month).
However, the fact is that Milord looked to be in the right position until bungling the second-last flight and finding virtually nothing for pressure afterwards. I'm not sure he has much fight in his belly, but at least we'll get a bigger price next time and his Cheltenham Festival form from last season is enough to see him stay on the list for now.
Big Water has an entry at Musselburgh on Monday, in which he should finally get the conditions he wants.
With £10,000 in prize money on offer, it's a contest that has attracted a decent field, but at least he won't have to worry about Tantamount, who looked screamingly well handicapped when winning at Aintree on Saturday instead of going here.
Provided that the weather remains fairly dry, I'd be backing him as he moves up to two and a half miles.
Ballinvarrig is in a conditional jockeys' chase at Cheltenham on Friday.
I'm sure he's capable of better than he showed when hammered by Get It On last time, but I'm not sure whether it's going to be at this track given that he has jumped out right markedly upon occasions in the past.
The owners might well prefer to see their horses in action at the bigger tracks, but I may have to wait for another day to get involved from a punting perspective.
Goodness knows which way to go with Chicklemix, who despite being well backed, once again looked disappointingly uncomfortable as a steeplechaser when fourth at Leicester last week.
I was hoping she'd get better with experience over fences but it simply isn't happening yet. I'll repeat my previous comment and say that a smaller field might help, as might slower ground. One more chance.
Tanerko Emery fell too early at Newbury on his most recent start to have an idea as to how he might have got on against Wonderful Charm.
Provided he's none the worse, I haven't given up on this horse continuing to progress. I already have a funny feeling I'm going to be backing him in the Centenary Novices' Handicap Chase at the Festival, but my funny feeling doesn't extend to having the faintest idea how David Pipe is going to get him there - let alone get him there on a screamingly good mark.
Woodbank bumped into one when chasing home the well-treated Off The Ground at Doncaster last weekend, but jumped much better, beat the rest by some way and should soon be winning.
That said, he comes off the Notebook list because he's now gone up 7lb for his last two performances without winning either. He's unlikely to be missed in the market either after his latest improved showing,
One horse added to the list is Waterunder, a staying-on fifth behind Deep Trouble in the aforementioned race in which Milord flopped.
This was solid form with third-home River Maigue well-fancied by the Henderson yard but unable to handle some well-weighted rivals.
Waterunder made up a lot of ground in the closing stages (see for yourself on the replay) and not for the first time looked as if he might benefit from either a faster-run race or going back up in trip to two and a half miles.
He had a very capable 7lb-claimer in the saddle there, which means David Pipe can't pull that rabbit out of his hat next time, but nevertheless he doesn't have a huge number of miles on the clock and and his overall progressive profile means that there may well be further improvement still to come.