1:30 Newb – 2pts win
Betameche @ 9/4 (general)
2:05 Newb – 1pt win Perform @ 11/1 (general)
2:40 Newb – 0.5pts e/w Value At Risk @ 22/1 (general – Bet365 best place terms)
Total staked 4pts
13:30 PETER O’SULLEVAN CHARITABLE TRUST H.O.P.E. PROGRAMME SENIORS’ HANDICAP HURDLE 2M 4F 118Y
This contest is similar in format to the veterans’ chase which follows it, open only to hurdlers aged eight and older, and the idea is that fully-exposed handicappers aren’t forced to compete against lightly raced improvers who are often ahead of their respective marks. I think we may have found a glitch in the concept, however, as Betameche comes here to make his handicap debut after just three runs over hurdles, the latest a comfortable win at Uttoxeter. Dan Skelton’s eight-year-old qualifies by dint of age rather than experience, and was a leading bumper performer in 2015/16 before injury intervened. His connections have persevered despite the son of Kapgarde needing over two years on the sidelines, and he can take advantage of the anomaly in the race conditions off what could prove a very lenient mark.
Betameche first caught the attention when posting a very fast closing sectional to win a bumper at Wetherby in April 2016, defying a penalty in the process, a performance which passed most people by given the time of the season when it occurred, but I recall it left our own Simon Rowlands almost literally purring with excitement. At the time, we didn’t know a great deal about the opposition, but the placed horses were Sam Spinner and Keeper Hill, the latter winning a handicap hurdle off an official BHA mark of 139 last month and the former scoring off the same mark last season before capturing the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle, and those exploits certainly answer the eternal question: ‘but what did he beat?’. As the estimable Mr Rowlands would point out, it’s not always what you beat but how that matters, and Betameche powered right away from that talented duo to answer both what and how in definitive fashion, marking him down as one of the brightest hurdling prospects of the following season. His followers have had to wait a long time, and the gelding has been brought along with kid gloves, but a facile victory in a Uttoxeter maiden hurdle late last month suggests all his old ability remains intact, and he appeals as the sort to make hay in the spring assuming he can be kept sound, and a mark of 124 is very generous based on the way his bumper form has worked out.
14:05 WILLIAM HILL SUPPORTING GREATWOOD VETERANS’ HANDICAP CHASE (LEG 3) 3M 1F 214Y
If any complaint can be levelled at this contest, it’s that a good prize for veterans on the same day as the historic Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster is bound to have a negative effect on field sizes for the latter event, but the turnout here is excellent, and a case can be made for several. Two of these have put up massive performances over course and distance in the past, with Houblon des Obeaux conceding weight to Many Clouds when second to that rival in the 2014 Hennessy Gold Cup, and Carole’s Destrier giving Native River a fright in the same contest two years later. The latter also showed his liking for this track and trip when winning the Mandarin Chase in December, and he can be forgiven a poor run in Haydock’s Grand National Trial last time, because, well…Haydock. Neil Mulholland’s stayer has a patchy profile, but remains fairly treated and stays better than most, so deserves to be high up the pecking order.
Abolitionist is an obvious contender given his positive profile, and was placed in the Irish Grand National for Ellmarie Holden when last seen over fences, and he came out of that race with great credit as the only one to throw down a challenge to impressive winner Our Duke. He has been with Dr Richard Newland for some time, but missed last spring with an injury, and has been confined to hurdles on his only start since, primarily to protect his handicap mark for the Grand National, which has always been his aim since being sourced by the Worcestershire trainer. He can win this without incurring a penalty for Aintree, and the timing of the run is clearly noteworthy, but he is also being primed for one day, and while Newland and owners Mark Albon, John Provan and Chris Stedman would no doubt love to win this as a bonus prize, his National chances will not be sacrificed for victory at all costs here.
An enduring theme of veterans’ races is that even in races for elderly and exposed chasers, there remains an advantage for those who are relatively young and unexposed by comparison, and the winner of this race for the past seven years has come from the youngest age bracket. With that in mind, and considering most of these would struggle off their current marks in high-end handicaps, I thought it might pay to take a chance on the lightly-raced Perform, who has never stood much racing until this season, but has put together a few solid runs, and while his latest third in the Somerset National pales in comparison to the past deeds of some of his rivals, he is arguably open to improvement after just ten lifetime starts, and will be receiving lumps of weight from his main rivals with regular rider Ben Jones (a former Welsh junior point-to-point champion) taking 7lb off. He looked a smart prospect when beating Knockgraffon and American over hurdles at Aintree on just his second start, but his career has been stalled by injury since, and this is the first time in his career that he has managed more than two outings in a season. The fact that he’s due to contest his fourth race in just over twelve weeks gives hope that his troubles are behind him, and the form of his last two runs at Wincanton looks solid, as evidenced by the speed figure he’s achieved.
14:40 WILLIAM HILL SUPPORTING GREATWOOD GOLD CUP HANDICAP CHASE (GRADE 3) 2M 3F 187Y
Value At Risk is a rather tentative suggestion in a race which gets harder to solve every time I look at it. Dan Skelton’s veteran hasn’t lived up to his immense early promise, but has still won eight of his 28 races, and was back in the winner’s enclosure at Market Rasen last month when he and Terry The Fish pulled 54 lengths clear of the field. It’s easy to argue that it was a weak race that he won at the Lincolnshire track, but that often seems the case when a strong pace causes the others to crack, and I’m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, with the time of the race comparing well to standard. He’s been raised just a nominal amount for that success, and is still lower in the weights than for his penultimate win, so is very fairly treated on balance, and he is again partnered by William Marshall, who got a good tune out of him last time, and is still able to claim the full 10lb allowance for riding for his own yard. That makes a significant difference, and if William can get Value At Risk into an early rhythm, he is capable of following up that success.