Paddy worth a Haydock punt
Man On The Spot previews Saturday's televised action from Ascot, Haydock and Wincanton.
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ROCKY CREEK found Harry Topper too strong on his chasing bow but the winner is a very smart novice and Paul Nicholls' seven-year-old has done little wrong since. The runner-up has franked the form of his win at Doncaster in December and the selection could be called the winner a long way out at Warwick last month. Tour Des Champs would probably have been placed in that race had he not fallen two out, however, and has won a small race at Ffos Las since. Houblon Des Obeaux has been keeping decent company but will probably always come up short against the very best while Real Milan needs to take a further step forward after wins at Carlisle and Ayr, though still has plenty of scope. Chasing newcomer Turtlethomas is set a very stiff task after a lengthy absence.
A number of these have been a little disappointing this term but VINO GRIEGO finally came good at Cheltenham three weeks ago after a few near-misses and that may have just given him the confidence to follow up against these more experienced chasers as a 10lb rise in the weights looks justified. Cappa Bleu has another prep race ahead of the Grand National but this looks too far for Idarah and Tatenen is another suited by shorter trips. Saint Are would have a chance if recapturing the form he showed at Aintree last spring and the Pipe pair, Problema Tic and Ashkazar, are others potentially well treated though the latter is a law unto himself. Brackloon High fell in The Rainbow Hunter's race here in November and continues to be plagued by jumping problems but is still preferred to the inconsistent Major Malarkey.
Giles Cross beat subsequent Grand National hero Neptunes Collonges in this race last year. He's failed to complete in a couple of starts since while Silver By Nature hasn't raced since finishing tailed off in the 2011 Grand National having won this event in the same year and 2010. Teaforthree is prominent in the betting for this year's big one at Aintree but was just held by today's rival Monbeg Dude in a tight finish for the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow last month with Triggerman back in third. The former pair are hard to separate as are Well Refreshed and Rigadin de Beauchene on December's running at Lingfield and both have won since then. Neptune Equester returned to action with a victory at Wetherby but has a bit to prove at this level and CANNINGTON BROOK is handed the vote as he won on this card last year and went close on his latest start over today's trip at Ffos Las a fortnight ago.
The Bear Trap gives the impression he doesn't find much off the bridle, though he was only beaten a head off his new mark at Ffos Las earlier this month. Bourne should go well as he ran well at Cheltenham after winning at Kempton and stays this longer trip while Top Of The Range doesn't look badly handicapped, though Barry Geraghty rides Nicky Henderson's other runner General Miller who has been off the track for 18 months. Queens Grove has won her last four starts in handicaps but takes a steep rise in class here and we are more interested in HOLD COURT. He was run off his feet by The New One in Grade 2 novice event at Warwick last month but may have just needed that after a short break. Impressive at Ludlow in the autumn, he nay have got in lightly here. Whitby Jack won at Kempton last time and though a long way behind Lord Of House at Sandown earlier may have needed that run. He may be the pick of the remainder.
Last year's winner Brindisi Breeze went on to Grade 1 glory in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham and Two Rockers is entered in the latter event. He remains unbeaten despite blundering at the last in both starts over hurdles and has to come into the reckoning having beaten SHOTGUN PADDY a length at Towcester on his hurdling debut. The latter re-opposes on much better terms today and Emma Lavelle's charge is fancied to turn the tables on the back of his third in a handicap at Chepstow last month. Creepy was thrown in at the deep-end on his hurdling bow in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham but finished a respectable fourth. He's preferred to the penalised Ardkilly Witness and Loose Preformer, who reverts to hurdling after a long absence.
This sharp track suits the attacking style of Celestial Halo and he's twice finished second in this race. However, he makes his seasonal reappearance today and Paul Nicholls has much better claims with ZARKANDAR. He was giving 16lb to Balder Success when beating him by seven lengths in the Elite Hurdle over course and distance in November and has won another Grade 2 at Cheltenham since when champion hurdler Rock On Ruby was back in third. Raya Star has proved himself at this level this year and easily has the beating of Monte Cavallo on Ascot running earlier this season. Khyber Kim was a smart hurdler in his heyday but has had his problems over the last couple of years and would probably struggle to win this even at his best.
Four of the six runners in this have won previously at Grade 1 level. Finian's Rainbow is one and there was clearly something amiss when he finished tailed off behind Captain Chris here in November. Connections are hoping a wind operation has cured the problem and he'll be a threat to all if rediscovering the form that saw him win last year's Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Melling Chase at Aintree. However, he was beaten fair and square by Somersby in last year's Victor Chandler and the latter ran well for a long way on his belated reappearance at Cheltenham behind Sprinter Sacre. Captain Chris was within inches of winning the King George on Boxing Day and has the beating of Ghizao on earlier form. CUE CARD was only fifth at Kempton but clearly didn't stay the trip and was eased. Back over 2m4f, we'll give another chance to Colin Tizzard's classy seven-year-old who is almost guaranteed to run his race and boasts top-class form in general.