That's the Spirit
Jack Nicol previews Saturday's feature action from Kempton and picks out three runners from the meeting.
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The Williamhill.com Lanzarote Hurdle (1440) is the first race of focus and it is a typically-competitive renewal once again this year but can go the way of SPIRIT OF SHANKLY for trainer Charlie Longsdon.
The Sulamani gelding failed to win any of his three hurdle starts last season, thereby retaining his novice status for this term and connections wasted little time in taking advantage as he duly landed a novices' event in late September.
He was then turned over under a penalty by the highly-regarded Royal Regatta at Aintree in October before bouncing back to winning ways in a first-time tongue-tie at Haydock. The exciting Urban Hymn was five lengths back in second that day and substantially franked the form when bolting up over course and distance next time out and that bodes well for Longsdon's gelding who looks well handicapped off having gone up just 3lb for that latest success.
Spirit Of Shankly will be ridden by Noel Fehily and it is interesting that he chooses to partner the six-year-old ahead of travelling to Warwick, where his rides might well have included the useful Killala Quay in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle.
Nicky Henderson won last year's renewal and he is represented by River Maigue this time around and the Zagreb gelding was a decent novice last season but ultimately disappointed in the Supreme at the Cheltenham Festival.
The seven-year-old made a satisfactory reappearance in a Listed race at Sandown and will most likely strip fitter for that run and must have a big chance now stepping up in trip.
Junction Fourteen is another to note and Emma Lavelle's charge has been heavily supported in the build-up to this race aftet a smooth victory over course and distance last time out. He has been raised 16lb for that success though and that now makes life difficult for the five-year-old.
Earlier on is the card is the Williamhill.com Chase (1410) and CHAMPION COURT has been rather unlucky so far this season. He was denied success in the Betfred Peterborough Chase two runs ago when the saddled slipped and eventually lost out by half a length to Riverside Theatre.
He then unseated Ian Popham in the King George and again Riverside Theatre denied him a chance of victory as the pair crashed into each other at an early stage, leaving Popham with no chance of retaining the partnership.
If there's any horse who deserves to get his head in front again then it is definitely Champion Court and connections have found a great opportunity for the nine-year-old to get back to winning ways.
He is dropped back in grade here and this will rate a much easier task back over a more suitable distance of two and a half miles.
The ground is currently soft on the chase course at Kempton, and while Champion Court's best from has come on a quicker surface, he has shown that he can handle this sort of going.
Ian Popham, Champion Court's regular rider is over at Warwick, so AP McCoy steps in for the mount and it goes without saying that the 18-times champion jockey is a more than able substitute for trainer Martin Keighley.
Willie Mullins brings over the talented Twinlight from Ireland and the seven-year-old must command respect. Ruby Walsh will be back in the saddle but his mount will need to brush up on his jumping if he is to take this, especially conceding 4lb to the selection.
Captian Chris banged a joint when schooling and missed his intended target of the King George last month - that will have been tough to take for connections, as the horse tends to save his best for Kempton and might well have run a good race there.
The 10-year-old finished a neck behind Champion Court in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon and pair reoppose on identical terms here. Philip Hobbs's charge was making his reappearance that day but Champion Court can nevertheless confirm that form with the Champ in the saddle.
Moving on to the penultimate race, the Williamhill.com Handicap Chase (1515) and I like the chances of David Pipe's BUDDY BOLERO.
The Accordion gelding absolutely loves soft ground and will get his conditions here. I'm happy to put a line through his run at Sandown, where he is likely to have found the ground too lively having stayed on at the one pace over three miles and five furlongs and if returning to the form of his previous second at Carlisle then he should be hard to beat.
The eight-year-old still looks to have improvement in him as he is still relatively lightly raced for an eight-year-old and could be aimed at something like the Eider Chase at Newcastle if he is successful here.
1410: Champion Court
1440: Spirit Of Shankly
1515: Buddy Bolero
Simon Holt is on holiday.