Our Catching Pigeons has the latest from Lambourn and beyond as some big guns return to the National Hunt scene around the country on Saturday.
Fusil Raffles can strike an early blow for the four year old generation with victory in the Unibet Elite Hurdle Wincanton on Saturday. Nicky Henderson came pretty late on the scene with Triumph Hurdle hero Pentland Hills and this son of Saint Des Saints to dominate the Spring Festivals in the juvenile division, and there have been encouraging signs this autumn that the selection can make his mark against the older generations at a very high level. Although he must carry a 6lb penalty for his impressive win at Punchestown last April, he has been working very well, and his stable have just begun to run into top form. Fears that the ground may be lively enough here, could also be offset by forecast rain on Saturday morning.
Flic Ou Viyou is high up the Paul Nicholls' pecking order of young hurdling talent and he can build on his promising debut effort over timber at Chepstow last month in the Frome Scaffolding Group National Hunt Novices Hurdle qualifier. A winner of two bumpers from three starts last season, he, like so many of the champion trainers' team at that time, was just in need of the outing at the Welsh course.
Just A Sting won his first two races last season, and merits consideration in the Badger Beer Handicap Chase. Harry Fry believes he is at his most effective when fresh and has him well primed after sidestepping an alternative comeback race at Cheltenham a couple of weeks ago.
Outofthisworld should also go well for Fry in the Richard Barber Memorial Mares Handicap Hurdle. She also showed her best form in the first half of last season, and was very well fancied to win under a big weight at Southwell last month, only for the outing to be aborted after very heavy rain. If the ground does not ease too much, she should go well with her lightweight.
It may pay to take a chance with Paint The Dream in the Premier League Betting At Virgin Novices Handicap Chase at Aintree. The five year old produced some very solid performances in decent company over hurdles last season, and deserved his win in a novices handicap at Perth on his final start. This looks a tough first exam over fences, but he looks the sort to progress from what was a light campaign, and will be sharper for his comeback effort in grade 2 company at Chepstow last month. His profile suggests he will be better suited by this less demanding course, and he looks nicely weighted with crack conditional Connor Brace taking off a handy 3lbs.
The Last Day miss his intended comeback at Ascot a week ago, but can make up for lost time with a big run in the Download The App Handicap Chase. Another sure to improve in the weeks ahead, he starts his second season over fences on a workable mark, and his trainer Evan Williams has his team in prime nick at present.
Top Notch, a stablemate of Fusil Raffles can make a winning return to action in the Bet And Watch At Virgin Bet Hurdle at Aintree. There are few more popular operators at Seven Barrows than this son of Poliglote, who seems equally effective over fences or hurdles. Although he had something of a disappointing campaign last season, he has been given a lengthy break, and he seems back to his old self at home according to the Henderson team. His work is solid and conditions of this race suit him well.
Oldgrangewood is well weighted on his best form and looks worth each-way consideration in the Virginbet Handicap Chase. Dan Skelton's gelding is some 11lbs lower than his career high over fences after a low key campaign last term, but he has since undergone surgery on a breathing deformity, and looks worth taking a chance with on his seasonal comeback.
Newtide is the latest of a talented team poised to make his debut over fences for Kim Bailey and he can make a successful return to Ffos Las on Sunday for the Burns Pet Nutrition Novices Chase. Expected to do well over hurdles last season, he did not let his connections down winning two of five starts, including a runaway win in a handicap here in March. He looks the type to do even better over the larger obstacles, and this looks a very attractive launch point.