Super Saphir just champion
Man On The Spot previews Saturday's terrestrial TV races from Ffos Las, Sandown and Wetherby.
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Eastlake won this last year but subsequent exploits means that he lines up this season off a 23lb higher mark. Rebel Rebellion won the Grand Sefton at Aintree last time but may not be as effective back on a conventional track and over a shorter trip while Kumbeshwar turned in a shocker at Cheltenham last week behind Wishfull Thinking. Desert Cry beat GREY GOLD by seven lengths at Wetherby last month with Filbert fourth and Oscar Hill last of the eight finishers. The runner-up is 8lb better off here and can turn the tables and gain a deserved first success of the season as Pepite Rose is probably high enough in the weights now.
After beating Home Run by eight lengths at Sandown in December, SAPHIR DU RHEU had the Pipe inmate even further behind when storming to an impressive victory in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton and it's difficult seeing the latter reversing the form here. Paul Nicholls' grey is a very smart performer over this intermediate distance and can land the hat-trick with Harry Derham again claiming a valuable 5lb. Whisper returned to winning ways at Newbury but was more than nine lengths behind the selection at Sandown earlier. He does enjoy a 21lb turnaround in the weights, however, and must be a threat in the colours of local owner Dai Walters. Grand Vision and Alaivan both ran well on heavy going last time and Awaywiththegreys won at Chepstow, though has more on his plate in this.
A disappointing turnout for the Grade 1 and OSCAR WHISKY should comfortably beat his two rivals. Though jumping fences late in life, Nicky Henderson's classy nine-year-old has taken well to the larger obstacles and did well to hold off the well-regarded Taquin De Seuil in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham on his latest start. Benvolio is on a hat-trick and progressing but he's not come up against anything of the caliber of the selection before. Manyriverstocross had his limitations exposed at this level over 2m here in December and, on a line through Taquin De Seuil, looks well held.
Mountainous was raised 7lb for winning the Welsh National at Chepstow and had earlier finished more than six lengths behind De La Bech over 3m here. The latter is 8lb better off today so should confirm that form, though he disappointed when made favourite over a longer trip at Cheltenham next time in a race in which Alfie Spinner finished second after making much of the running. Nick Williams' stayer deserves to win one of these but will probably find at least one too good again. Junior may not be the force of old but Flying Award won over this trip at Wincanton last month and Soll has bags of stamina. SMOKING ACES was second in the Sussex National and should be approaching peak fitness now. It must be an advantage to be carrying a featherweight in these conditions and the 10-year-old can win for the first time since joining the Jonjo O'Neill stable.
GREEN FLAG lost his unbeaten record over fences when second to Annacotty in the Grade 1 Feltham at Kempton on Boxing Day but Lucinda Russell's charge can return to winning ways in this company. Shutthefrontdoor was progressing well before a below-par effort at Cheltenham, though strictly on the book his earlier defeat of Beeves gives him something to find with Ely Brown. The latter won easily at Leicester in December on only his second start over fences and is preferred to Coverholder, beaten a long way when second at Haydock to Tarquin Du Seuil. Milborough came a cropper at Ayr last month having won on his chasing debut at Uttoxeter while Strike Fast is even harder to fancy making his racecourse debut at this level.
This looks wide-open but it's difficult to see Pete The Feat defying top weight as he's gone up another 4lb since his third at Haydock. Amigo ran well in the Welsh National and is less exposed than most while Jump City finished ahead of On Trend and Relax when second to Planet Of Sound at Kempton and is consistent. Novices Ardkilly Witness and Hansupfordetroit are rising through the ranks and could be interesting but may be too close in the weights to THEATRICAL STAR. The return to 3m will suit Colin Tizzard's recent Ascot third and he thrives on heavy going. He makes more appeal than Fruity O'Rooney on this season's form and gets the nod, but Roalco De Farges is worth monitoring in the betting as he's not badly treated on his return from a long break.