It’s another of those Saturdays with some top class jumps racing to watch but not for me to punt on at the prices that are available as a couple of big names put in their likely last appearance pre-Cheltenham. For the purposes of nicking a couple of bob I am on the all-weather again in the shape of the Polytrack down at Lingfield Park and the Tapeta at Wolverhampton in the evening. I have snaffled to very early BPG prices as that’s worked well for me recently.
At 2.20 they go over the five furlongs for the 32red Novice Median Auction Stakes; it is not a great race but one jumps off the page at me. Gabrial The Devil has never run here but was runner-up twice over six furlongs on Tapeta, first at Wolverhampton then Newcastle, last backend and must go close if he can reproduce that level of form on Polytrack. On both occasions he ran prominently and was worn down late on suggesting the drop in trip and generally considered faster track here may well suit. The two stall is positive with the other likely front-runners drawn relatively wide and Martin Harley rides as well here as anyone. I think he can finally break his duck in this at the eighth time of asking and have the 6-4.
I like the look of one at a fair price in the Play For Free At Sunbets.co.uk/vegas Handicap over a mile at 2.55. My Target loves it down in Surrey having won here six times, five over track and trip. The last of those wins was in March 2017 off of 102 and having run okay in defeat since he now finds himself down to 98, which is obviously a very workable mark if at his best. Josephine Gordon takes over in the saddle for the first time today on the Michael Wigham inmate and she knows how to ride this track. Stall 8 isn’t such a concern over the eight furlongs here and as it happens most of the likely front-runners are all stalled high so they should all get over with little or no problems. I really do think he is a big price at 7-1 with Hills and I am on. Chevallier is another who likes it here and is naturally feared.
There is time then for a beer or two watching England v Wales in the Six Nations before my final bet for Saturday up at Wolverhampton at 7.45 in the five-furlong Betway Handicap with 11 going to post. Boom The Groom likes Dunstall Park with a track record of two wins and one placed effort in five runs, both wins over the five. The seven-year-old struggled with his handicap mark throughout 2017 but is now down to an OR of 97 which is much more workable. He has started 2018 in much better form with two second-place finishes, one at Chelmsford and one at Lingfield, and I think a return to this happy hunting ground can see him back in the winning enclosure. William Carson gets on well with him and his liking for being up the pointed end from the off is a big plus here. The ten stall ain't great but all being well he’ll get across and if he does he has every chance; I have taken the 7-1.
As for those Jumps races, it is the two extremes with three runner fields and a 26 runner handicap! Altior is odds-on and will face just two rivals making his eagerly-anticipated return in the G2 Betfair Exchange Chase at Newbury. A Triple G favourite the Nicky Henderson-trained star is already a dual Cheltenham Festival winner having won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and the Arkle Trophy in the last two years and is favourite for next month's Queen Mother Champion Chase even though he’s been off-track all season after undergoing a wind operation. At his best he wins, simple as that, Politologue is the one set to take advantage if he is a bit ‘ring rusty’.
Last year's winner Native River is one of just three set to face the starter for the G.2 Betfair Denman Chase also at Newbury. The Colin Tizzard trained 8-year-old also won the Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National last season before finishing third in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He has not been seen since last March but is also an odds-on favourite to take this again. An old friend of Triple G Saphir Du Rheu also goes.
For the Grade Three Betfair Hurdle Jenkins heads a five-strong team for Nicky Henderson as the champion trainer bids for a sixth victory in the race; my only advice would be you could always stick a pin in as it’s a punting nightmare :o)