So here we are in 2022 and hopefully life will eventually start to return to some form of normality.
In the racing world things are generally a little quieter in January, but we have plenty to look forward to, particularly with the introduction of the Winter Million at Lingfield in just over a week’s time.
I’m looking forward to being at Lingfield for two days, with a tasty Ascot card the meat in the Friday/Sunday Lingfield sandwich.
In the meantime, there is plenty of racing this weekend and it should be competitive with graded action at Kempton and Warwick.
Speaking of competitive, the Agetur UK Ltd Classic Chase at Warwick has numerically attracted its usual decent entry. Fifteen have been declared from the eighteen entered which makes for a superb race to get stuck in to.
It’s not just the numbers that make it competitive, there are some progressive stayers in the line-up too.
Gericault Roque is one of them and is Sky Bet’s 4/1 favourite at the time of writing. The David Pipe trained six-year-old is unexposed with just seven starts to date under rules resulting in two wins.
Both successes have come over hurdles but he’s improving with each run over fences and for stepping up in trip. He was an excellent second in the Mandarin Handicap Chase at Newbury last time out and there will be more to come from him.
Corach Rambler is snapping at his heels to be head of the market and is a 9/2 shot.
Another horse with improvement to come, he has won two of his three starts over fences for trainer Lucinda Russell. As an eight-year-old, he’s lightly raced for his age and hails from a stable that do particularly well with their staying chasers.
He has top weight to carry, but he’s well regarded and the stable won this with subsequent Grand National winner One For Arthur in 2017.
Not A Chance won this race last year and has dropped back to that winning handicap mark, but he’s failed to complete in three of his four subsequent starts.
Last year’s runner-up Achille is also back for more but has a higher rating to overcome and at the age of twelve, won’t be progressing.
His trainer Venetia Williams continues in good form though.
Sky Bet are paying five places instead of three and for that reason I’m keen to give Grace A Vous Enki a chance to redeem himself having fallen over hurdles last time out (12/1 appeals as an each way selection). So, not the ideal preparation, but when you delve deeper there is plenty to recommend him.
Firstly, he’s trained by Paul Nicholls who wouldn’t be coming here without good reason. Secondly, this horse is bred for staying chasing being a half brother to Yala Enki.
Thirdly, his back form over fences in France looks good. He won two four-year-old chases at Auteuil and was placed in Grade 3 company at the same venue.
That was over two- and three-quarter miles, but as mentioned, he’s bred for this staying game, and you can be sure he’ll have done plenty of schooling since his mishap at Hereford last time out.
He was pretty casual at the flight he fell at, and I suspect he’ll have more respect for the bigger obstacles.
So, I’m keen on two here; CORACH RAMBLER and slightly more speculatively, GRACE A VOUS ENKI.
Over at Kempton and the Coral Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle provides its usual conundrum with a field of twenty going to post for this two-mile five-furlong contest. Sky Bet are paying seven places instead of four here.
Paul Nicholls will be hoping to make an impact on this race too and he sends Gelino Bello to Kempton to make his handicap debut. He been beaten by the same horse the last twice with the Charles Byrnes trained Blazing Khal coming out on top both times in novice company.
His mark of 138 looks in the right ballpark for this though, and both of Nicholls’ most recent winners of this were rated higher, only Nycteos was rated lower for his victory in this contest in 2008.
So, plenty to recommend Gelino Bello and he makes it on to my shortlist.
Nicky Henderson has also won the race three times, including with William Henry in 2018 and he lines up once again but now in the care of Sam Thomas.
Henderson runs three here. Marie’s Rock is his main hope having won easily over course and distance over Christmas, and she is joined by stablemates Call Me Lord, who reverts to hurdles here and Monte Cristo who is one of the outsiders but is looking well handicapped.
With the seven places and for old times sake, Monte Cristo at 22/1 is also on my shortlist (don’t mention anything about my heart ruling my head!).
The Philip Hobbs trained Earth Lord won on handicap debut at Ascot last time out, hasn’t been heavily penalised and there should be more to come.
Jamie Snowdon is sending out a few winners and he runs Up For Parol who will appreciate the slight step up in trip having won over shorter at Haydock last time out.
Ben Case will be hopeful his good run of form can continue with Cobblers Dream. He’s another progressive young horse who shouldn’t be overburdened by his handicap mark.
So, you can make a case for several of these as you’d expect, but it’s GELINO BELLO and at a bigger price, MONTE CRISTO that I’m siding with.
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