Alex Hammond: Saphir to shine
Alex Hammond previews the weekend's feature action and takes Saphir Du Rheu to defy top weight in the Lanzarote Hurdle.
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Well what a washout last weekend was with major meetings being abandoned after a deluge of yet more rain.
The good news is that the Tolworth Hurdle has been saved and will be run at Kempton this Saturday instead.
It seems that Willie Mullins plans to send Upazo to the UK for the Tolworth rather than stay in Ireland to run in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.
It must be difficult for Ireland's champion trainer to keep his good horses apart and it's no surprise to see him run more and more horses at the big weekend meetings in the UK.
This horse held an entry in the Slaney Novice Hurdle last Sunday, but he was still 'in transit' from Sandown's abandoned fixture so didn't take on his stablemate Briar Hill. Instead, we get the chance to see him at Kempton. He has won his last two starts and he looks to be progressing after disappointing last season.
The transfer of the race looks likely to suit the Paul Nicholls trained Irving who has been progressing over hurdles in his three starts and won a Grade 2 at Ascot last time out when left clear at the last by the fall of Prince Seigfried who is also entered again.
As I mentioned in last week's blog he was in the process of running a massive race there and could have worried the winner. However, like many of John Ferguson's inmates he is flat bred and may not want very testing ground which looks hard to avoid at the moment. He did win on heavy on the flat, but this will be tougher, although it could dry out a bit before the weekend with a slightly more favourable forecast.
Irving wouldn't want it bottomless either as he is a speed horse, that does mean that this track will probably suit him better than Sandown. He wasn't amongst the final entries at Sandown, but has a better opportunity here.
That appears to be in contrast to David Pipe's runner The Liquidator, his trainer felt Sandown would have suited better that the sharper track at Kempton. He couldn't have been more impressive at Cheltenham last time out, albeit on better ground, but he does have winning form on heavy.
Nicky Henderson has a couple of interesting entries in Josses Hill and Royal Boy. The latter was actually third in this race last year, but only broke his maiden last month after a disappointing chase debut in November and Henderson has decided to stay over hurdles for the time being with him.
Josses Hill is another horse expected to make a decent chaser in time and he also broke his maiden over hurdles at Newbury last month. He looks the stable pick for a trainer who has a good record in this race over the past few years with wins with Minella Class and Captain Conan most recently.
Garde la Victoire is the Philip Hobbs entry and he's an interesting runner. He won a 3yo bumper in October 2012 and then didn't run for over a year when he foiled odds on favourite and Champion Bumper runner up Regal Encore in a maiden hurdle at Aintree. He then won a novice before finishing second at Cheltenham. He is a lovely prospect.
Amore Alato won over this course and distance last time out, but the Nick Williams trained gelding was allowed to set a steady pace there and he may be more vulnerable here, although he is improving. Although the track isn't expected to suit as well as Sandown, I'm sticking with last week's selection, The Liquidator. He looked really smart at Cheltenham and I hope his class can prevail.
The William Hill Lanzarote Hurdle is another decent contest, this time a competitive handicap over 2m 5f. It looks to have attracted a really strong entry with Emma Lavelle's Junction Fourteen one of the leading contenders.
It's hard to find much fault in this five year old who won over this course and distance on Boxing Day off a mark of 121 and now has to go off 137. All ground comes alike to him and he sticks his neck out in pleasing fashion.
Lavelle started this season like a rocket and her horses are still running well although still winless from just a handful of runners in January.
Nicky Henderson has five entered with River Maigue the shortest in the market and he should strip fitter for his reappearance at Sandown.
Dan Skelton has proved he's the man for the big occasion already this season and his Like Minded is bidding to give him another big Saturday winner. Skelton has done well to get this horse back after a layoff and a second place and a win are testament to his training skills.
Can his old mentor Paul Nicholls continue to stamp his authority on this jumps season? He was written off as a championship contender after Nicky Henderson got the title back last off him term, but he has a strong team and is currently ahead in that battle.
He has Saphir Du Rheu and Black River entered. The former was impressive when winning at Sandown last time out and this lovely big young horse may have more to offer. It's no surprise to see him raised 15lbs for that easy win, but as he could be potentially smart that doesn't worry me too much given the manner of that victory.
Charlie Longsdon has started the year incredibly well and it's a pity the ground is as it is because Spirit of Shankly may find conditions too testing here.
I'm not sure there are many trainers that have started the year better than Venetia Williams. She has Citizenship entered and can't be ruled out although he is much more exposed than many of these. The horse has only run a couple of times for the Hereford handler though and she may eek a bit more out of him given the superb stable form.
"A horse I haven't given up on yet is Clondaw Kaempfer. Donald McCain's charge was a smart novice and came back from almost a year away from the track in November. He ran better on his second start back at Aintree a month ago."
A horse I haven't given up on yet is Clondaw Kaempfer. Donald McCain's charge was a smart novice and came back from almost a year away from the track in November. He ran better on his second start back at Aintree a month ago and has been given time to get over that run.
He may not be badly handicapped and he'd be my each way selection at a bigger price (16/1 with Sky Bet) and McCain's horses are in good form. I'm going to stick though with the Paul Nicholls trained Saphir Du Rheu, but the McCain horse is one to be on the right side of too.
It's been pretty wet this week at Warwick, but there are no problems anticipated at the time of writing. The Betfred Classic Chase is the feature and it will take some getting as it's run over 3m 5f on heavy ground.
Vesper Bell will be interesting if he lines up for Willie Mullins despite falling at the first at Aintree in the Becher Chase last time out. He handles this sort of ground and stays well.
Boyfromnowhere is handily weighted for Rebecca Curtis who claims a further 5lbs off his back. He's another horse who stays well and won't mind the ground as his win in Fontwell's Southern National last time out proved.
Shotgun Paddy is another vying for favouritism from the Emma Lavelle yard and he won't mind testing conditions as he was a decent second in that sort of ground behind Black Thunder in a Grade 2 Novice Chase last time out.
This is a notable step up in trip, but he just gallops so it should suit him well. Victor's Serenade is one to keep on the right side of too. He hails from the yard of Anthony Honeyball who is an up and coming trainer, although I'm a bit concerned his horses don't appear to be running out of their skins at the moment. This horse had his first start for more than a year in November and needs these sort of conditions.
Emperors Choice represents last year's winner Venetia Williams and this horse will love conditions here. He runs off a mark of 128 which is starting to look attractive and as the majority of his wins have come on this ground and over this type of trip he can take advantage of that. He has to put a bad run behind him at Haydock (Tommy Whittle Chase) when he pulled up last time out, but he could bounce back here.
Henry Daly loves his staying chasers too and he runs Safran de Cotte who also pulled up in the same race as Emperors Choice last time out. He has just turned eight and there could be more to come again on conditions that suit.
It would be great for Mick Channon and Henrietta Knight if Loch Ba were to win in the week that Hen lost her husband Terry Biddlecombe. This horse was second in the Tommy Whittle last time and runs off the same mark on Saturday. He can make the odd jumping error though which is a slight worry.
Caroline Bailey has her team in better form now and Noble Legend is an incredibly consistent performer. His stamina is unproven though and this is a big step up in trip.
Carruthers has top weight to carry which makes life hard for this lovely horse so he would have to produce a career best to win, he will love conditions too. Hey Big Spender stays well but pulled up in the Welsh National last time out.
Master Overseer has his first run since March where he pulled up in the Midlands National, he's not obviously well handicapped. Nigel Twiston-Davies has Major Malarkey entered and he may still not be badly handicapped but the ground may be too testing. It looks like a red hot renewal and you could run it a few times and get a different winner.
I'm going to give Emperors Choice a chance here for his in-form stable.
The New One won the Neptune Novices' Hurdle on this card last year and there are some smart horses entered in this year's renewal. I like the Charlie Longsdon trained Killala Quay and if the ground doesn't stop him he has the class to win.
The Liquidator in the Tolworth Hurdle
Saphir Du Rheu in the Lanzarote Hurdle @ 15/2 with Sky Bet
Clondaw Kaempfer in the Lanzarote Hurdle @ 16/1 (each way) with Sky Bet
Emperors Choice in the Classic Chase @ 14/1 with Sky Bet
Killala Quay in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle