Matt Brocklebank looks ahead to the day's action, with Bramble Brook expected to enjoy his return to Fontwell in a small field.
Southwell suits you, Sir
A grumbled chorus of "poor old Sir Geoffrey" rang out from the Sporting Life racing desks moments after the start of the Betway Selling Handicap at Southwell on the final day of November.
'Dwelt' is not an ideal first word of any in-running comment, but especially not over five furlongs, or at Southwell, or if your horse is 12 years of age and competing from the basement mark of 45 having once been as high as 86.
Granted, Matt Cardle was number one when Sir Geoffrey was rated 86 but he’s been a serious servant to connections (Geoffrey, not Cardle) throughout his time on the track and 14 of his 21 career wins (he’s one short of Un De Sceaux's career tally, for what it’s worth) have come under the tutelage of Scott Dixon.
Dixon and co clearly have a bit of a job on their hands placing the now 43-rated veteran from out of the handicap proper, but the money was down last time as he was punted into 7/2 favouritism from around 12/1 earlier in the day, so it’s nice to think he still shows a bit of sparkle at home.
Southwell’s Betway Heed Your Hunch Handicap over five furlongs looks a very fitting next target for a horse who can never been ruled out at this course, and one has just the smallest of hunches that he’s going to be popular in the market once more here no matter what the head is positively screaming at the heart.
Good old Sir Geoffrey.
Appleby pair pose a problem
It is at this point that I must admit to once believe that backing more than one runner in a single race was tantamount to cheating.
I like to think I’ve honed my punting prowess slightly over the years, but can’t help but play the age-old ‘Appleby toss-up’ when course specialist Mick has a couple of representatives in the same handicap.
I give you Exhibit A: 1.20 Southwell - #betyourway At Betway Handicap.
On the one hand, we have the unexposed and lightly-raced three-year-old Principia. She’s a Juddmonte-bred French import who steps into handicap company for the first time with a mark of 68 following a fine second in a recent course maiden over a mile and a half. She’s going to enjoy the extra couple of furlongs here if her pedigree is anything to go by.
The other, a relatively gnarled four-year-old in the shape of Epitaph. He’s never been as low in the ratings since joining Appleby from Ireland (Joseph O’Brien, no less) and whose course record reads one win, five seconds, three thirds, two fourths and three fifths. In short, he loves the place. Recent evidence suggests he’s struggling a bit for form but that diminished handicap mark and the booking of Luke Morris leaves me struggling badly to write him off as a ‘second string’.
"Back both," I hear you cry. The counter-argument: why waste 50% of your stake when you can trust your judgement, take the plunge and get an even bigger kick from getting it right with a single dart?
It may seem reckless to some, but Epitaph gets the vote here - just.
Three and easy?
Bramble Brook seems to attract small fields. Or maybe it’s the other way around?
Either way, there have been just three runners when he’s won his last two races, one of which was at Fontwell, so Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old should be right at home in the NetBet Handicap Chase back there on Tuesday.
He’s a bit of an oddity really as it took him an eternity to actually get his head in front but 2018 has been quite kind to Bramble Brook, producing three victories in total (just the four runners on the other occasion he struck gold), and he’s now competing from a much higher mark in the mid-120s.
However, the signs were quite encouraging at Uttoxeter last month and that first run since May was, in all likelihood, entitled to be needed.
With just Scoop The Pot and Like The Sound to cope with here it wouldn’t be a surprise if the horse were able to extend not only his good record in three-runner fields, but also James Bowen’s smart strike-rate for the yard (4-22 at 18%, 2-8 at 25% this term).
Chef seemingly set a difficult task
The Dove Valley Marquees Beginners’ Chase at Uttoxeter looks a fabulous little race. Though one of those certain adjectives looks a shade out of place give the 16-strong field.
There’s real depth too and it’s hard to know how to break it down but allow me, from top to bottom, to have a brief run through the leading contenders.
Any Drama – Harry Fry’s Irish recruit was sixth in the Grade Two Aintree bumper won by Bacardys in 2016 and won two novice hurdles the following February before pulling up in Penhill’s Albert Bartlett. Not seen since but always considered a future chaser and paramount he has soft ground.
Chef Des Obeaux – PP the last two form figures but they came in Grade One novice events at Cheltenham and Aintree, where he was quietly fancied to get the better of stablemate Santini in the former. It wasn’t to be but he bolted up in a Grade Two novice at Aintree in February and had been second to Santini earlier in the season. He is a top prospect for team Henderson though surprisingly not quoted for the RSA Chase in antepost lists. Clearly the one they all have to beat.
Crucial Role – Another who contested the Albert Bartlett last season and he also failed to finish. Mark of 139 over hurdles showed how far he’d gone in that sphere but made some very costly jumping mistakes on recent chasing debut at Haydock. Entitled to be sharper now.
Forza Milan – Pulled up in the Pertemps Final won by Delta Work in March but sent off at 15/2 there which tells you how highly he’s regarded. Pretty consistent otherwise and 138 hurdles rating brings him into the equation if improving a touch for the switch to chasing.
Huntsmans Son – Fourth from a mark of 135 in the Imperial Cup at Sandown on his final start last term and already matched that level of form, according to the assessors, after chasing home Kalashnikov on his fencing bow at Warwick. Definitely of interest for handicaps further down the line, if not today.
Just Don’t Ask – 269 days off but this former point to point winner looked made for the bigger obstacles when winning over hurdles at Ayr and here earlier this year. He’s one of just three previous course winners in the field.
Kilfilum Cross – Another who won his last two over timber, both over distances slightly beyond today’s. “He’s progressive and he’s always been a chaser, not a hurdler,” remarked former trainer Kim Bailey after his last win. Starting out for Christopher Kellett here and well worth a second look.
Lovenormoney – 140-rated hurdler who finished mid-pack in the Pertemps at Cheltenham. Had landed a gamble in a strong qualifier for that race at Exeter previously and he absolutely loves it when the mud is flying.
Midnight Maestro – Barry Geraghty knows him well but wasn’t in the plate the last twice when he was second at Plumpton when won at Market Rasen when last seen in May. Used to work with Yanworth on the Alan King gallops so clearly has a big engine and he’s always been thought of as a future chaser.
Now McGinty – Twice a winner over hurdles and already taken form to new levels in this sphere with a second to The Worlds End at Chepstow. Unseated rider at Huntingdon over the weekend but worth keeping an eye on.
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