Our gallops insider has some interesting selections this Saturday including Espoir De Guye who takes a drop in trip at Ascot.
Craigneiche can take advantage of his lightweight in the Matchbook Better Way Handicap Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday. Nicky Henderson sets a real poser in this race by saddling both the unexposed selection, and the well experienced topweight Janika, and both are expected to go well on what will be their belated first appearances of the season. Janika, the winner of the Haldon Gold Cup over fences on his return last term, is a pretty adept hurdler as well, and is taking advantage of a much lower rating over the smaller obstacles. However, he must concede 20lbs to Craigneiche, who has won two of his three races for the champion trainer, a maiden hurdle at Doncaster, and a bumper at Market Rasen. His third to The Big Breakaway at Newbury on his debut over timber also reads well, and connections have been very happy with his prep work in building up to this return. Both horses hold solid each-way chances.
Espoir De Guye can put a disappointing performance over three miles here last month behind him in the bet365 Handicap Chase. Although he failed to last home behind Mister Malarkey in what was a valuable event just before Christmas, he has been given a short break to recover from what was a tough race, and has shown in the past he can win over shorter distances here. At only seven, he still looks capable of some improvement, and the prevailing ground should prove no problem.
Enqarde, a winner over fences in his native France, can recover from his false start over the larger obstacles on this side of the Channel in the Matchbook Best Odds Handicap Chase. Richard Newland's seven year old took a useful scalp in Sunset West when landing a novice hurdle at Newcastle on his second start for the good doctor, but then unseated five out on his return to the larger obstacles in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock just before Christmas. He had jumped pretty well and was still travelling well at the time, a point underlined by his young rider thumping the turf just after his dispatch from the saddle. Connections will have worked on his jumping since that spill, and he looks worth taking a chance on in an open looking race.
Jeremy Pass should give the likely favourite Valleres plenty to think about in the Matchbook Betting Exchange British EBF National Hunt Novices' Hurdle qualifier. An ex-Irish pointer to pointer, he made it third time lucky for Paul Nicholls when beating subsequent dual scorer Sizeable Sam a cosy two and a quarter lengths at Wincanton on his hurdling bow, and the form was given a further boost when the third Iron Mike, was only beaten a nose by hot favourite On To Victory on the same course last month.
Sam Barton has come up against two very useful performers in Star Gate and Optimise Prime on his two outings so far over timber and he looks worth an each-way interest in the EBF National Hunt Novices' Hurdle qualifier at Taunton. This looks another competitive event for Emma Lavelle's well-regarded gelding, but still looks relatively unexposed, and should progress from both those outings after a pre-Christmas break.
Bryony Frost features strongly at one of her local courses and, in addition to riding the popular Yala Enki in the featured Portman Cup, partners another very interesting horse on the card in Silver Quay in the second division of the Summerfield Developments Handicap Hurdle. Trained by her father Jimmy, this nine year old fairly hosed up when this race was run without a split two years ago, and is now 2lbs lower in the ratings. Although The son of Dark Angel has not seen action for 11 months, his ever shrewd handler can certainly ready one first time up, and he could well reward a win and place punt. Whatever happens here, he could be one to look out for moving forward.
Even Sam Brown may have don his waders to get through the ground at Haydock, but he has shown a high level of form in desperate conditions and he looks the one to be on in the Peter Marsh Limited Handicap Chase. It almost seems to be a case of cheating nature that the meeting has survived to enable the stewards to make a precautionary inspection on Saturday morning after a heavy deluge fell on the course in midweek, but Sam Brown landed a Grade 2 in great style in the mud at this meeting 12 months ago, and has also won at arguably the most consistently boggy course in the South - dear old "leafy" Lingfield. Anthony Honeyball's progressive seven year old has only seen action once so far this season, and that came at Carlisle where he chased home the improving and high class performer Imperial Aura and the very useful Windsor Avenue in a high quality Listed conditions event. Sam Brown was conceding weight to both those performers, and despite the fact he has not run since, it will come as no surprise if he can prevail here on his return to three miles.
Silver Hallmark is nicely weighted with hot favourite Allart on a line through Fiddlerontheroof and could be the value bet to play party pooper in the Read Nicky Henderson's Unibet Blog Novices' Chase. Henderson rates Allart very highly, and is fully justified on his overall form, but the son of Shantou has never raced on a surface as demanding as he will encounter here, and Fergal O'Brien's lightly raced gelding did beat McFabulous in the mud at Chepstow early last season.