David Ord takes a close look at Wednesday's action as Wetherby's season gets under way and Gordon Elliott targets a favourite race of his at Punchestown.
CHAMPION RIDE WORTH THE WAIT
Innocent Touch returns home on Wednesday to contest the Watch Racing UK Anywhere Handicap Hurdle at Wetherby.
The seven-year-old spent his formative years a few miles up the road at Malton where he developed into a very decent ten furlong handicapper for Richard Fahey before switching codes with Henry Daly in the spring.
Things are going well too, he’s won two of his last three starts over timber and while he was soundly beaten in a warmer heat at Market Rasen last time, he must hold solid claims on Wedneday.
At least – presumably – Richard Johnson thinks so as he heads up the A1 for this one ride. He’ll need something to soothe the pain of the journey back south.
But Wetherby has been a happy hunting ground for the champion jockey of late, last season he rode 10 winners from 24 rides at the course at a healthy 42 per cent strike-rate. Eight of the others were placed while he showed a £19.93 profit on those rides to a £1 stake.
If you are therefore looking to land a touch of your own at Wetherby on Wednesday, perhaps Innocent Touch should be on the shortlist.
LONGSDON HAS THE BOY FOR THE RENTON
There was a time when the opening Wetherby meeting meant the Bobby Renton Novices’ Chase. It was a race in which some of the north’s leading novice chase prospects would feature as they began to learn a new trade.
Night Nurse is among the names on an illustrious roll of honour.
Now the Bobby Renton is a handicap chase – and the roll of honour less auspicious. But it’s still interesting and the 2018 renewal is a particularly significant one for trainer Charlie Longsdon.
He’s among the trainers to benefit from owner Andrew Brooks’ decision to move the bulk of his team from Venetia Williams.
Longsdon has been sent Willie Boy – and Longsdon has been sent an interesting horse. Clearly things haven’t been straightforward for this fellow but he’s only had eight races under rules and has won handicap chases at Uttoxeter and Newbury.
In the latter he produced a wonderful round of humping to beat a good yardstick in Henri Parry Morgan and looked a young chaser to follow.
He was restricted to just two subsequent outings – a tame effort back at the Berkshire track in December and then falling four out when pitched in deep in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate at Cheltenham in March.
But he’s not one to write off just yet. He’s now only four pounds higher than his last win and has undergone wind surgery, as well as the switch of stables. He goes well fresh and if he jumps with anything like his old fluency will take some pegging back.
BATH TIME WITH CROWLEY
Hamdan Al Maktoum has three runners on Wednesday and it might be significant that Jim Crowley heads to Bath.
True it means he has two rides in the blue and white silks (and some decent spares too) but Moqtarreb is an interesting colt and Crowley may rue not heading to the East Midlands to ride him.
He’s the Nottingham runner who was too green to do himself justice on debut at Newmarket but could well be a different proposition in the Galliford Try East Midlands EBF Maiden Stakes.
He’s a fascinating long-term project for the Roger Varian team being by Kingman and from the family of Nathaniel.
But it’s to Britain’s highest racecourse that the former champion jockey travels and primarily two rides for Owen Burrows. We’ve already mentioned on more than on occasion here that the Lambourn handler is rapidly making up for lost time after enduring a frustrating and lean summer when the Kingwood House team weren’t right.
They’ve turned the corner since and while he’ll be hoping the trickle of winners becomes a flood in the coming weeks, there are reasons for optimism for the Lambourn trainer.
Debutant Raheeb cost 180,000 guineas and is bred to rip being a Kodiac half-sister to the very fast Extortionist and another juvenile five furlong winner in Utterly Charming. It would be no surprise to see her make a winning start in the Octagon Consultancy/EBF Novice Stakes.
Stablemate Anaakeed looks a bet in the closing Octagon Consultancy Fillies' Handicap.
She has top weight Pure Shoes to beat but is progressing with racing and posted a career best at Chelmsford last time. She drops back to a mile here and the big field, strong pace scenario appeals as something which will really suit.
CHELTENHAM CLUE AT PUNCHESTOWN?
We know trainers are creatures of habit and Gordon Elliott has won the Punchestown Members Club Maiden Hurdle for the last two seasons. A notable feat in itself, but even more so when you consider it was with Labaik and Samcro.
This time he runs two hurdling debutants – from very different backgrounds.
Batts Rock is a useful handicapper from the Flat who won at Bellewstown and the Curragh this summer and took his rating to 91.
Empire Burleque looked a promising sort when winning a Fairyhouse bumper in February 2017 but wasn’t seen for another 12 months and finished last of nine in a Grade Two contest at Leopardstown.
He’s back here for a first taste of hurdling. At first glance neither look particularly high in the Cullentra House Stables pecking order but the fact they run here means they’re worth sticking in your My Stable tracker at the very least - surely?