To many flat enthusiasts joy, the ITV racing team are bringing flat action to our television screens on Saturday. The Hever Sprint sees six horses got to past, with many familiar names in the field. Four of the six runners are previous course and distance winners. This includes Gracious John who took this contest twelve months ago off an eight pound higher mark.
Encore D’Or came out the wrong side of a head bobber with Gracious John last season. Given how Robert Cowell’s charge has slid down the weights he now meets Gracious John on fifteen pounds worse terms.
The Archie Watson trained pair Corinthia Knight and recent recruit Gorgeous Noora also hold leading claims but for me, the percentage call is to side with Gracious John.
Selection: Gracious John
This looks like a bit of a one horse with the John Gosden trained Wissahickon, the standout performer. He ended last season with a runaway victory in the Cambridgeshire and began this year in the same rich vein of form. Wissahickon has landed a brace of Listed victories this year.He showed a very smart turn of foot late on having being hampered inside the final furlong most recently.
Big Country has filled the runner-up berth behind the favourite on the last two occasions and in truth, a similar fate looks likely for Mick Appleby’s smart gelding.
Master The World was awarded this race in the steward’s room last season at odds of 16/1. He races here off the same mark as twelve months ago and although he should run well. It’s hard to see him being good enough to and back to back renewals.
Pendil Novices’ Chase
Harry Fry’s Bags Groove tops the weight having looked mightly impressive in three starts over fences this term. That included a nine-length defeat of Secret Investor in a Grade 2 at Wincanton in November. He was very disappointing in the Grade 1 Kauto Star novices’ chase on Boxing day. However, if you put a line through that run then he’s th horse to beat.
The aforementioned Secret Investor re-opposes here and although he’s finished runner-up on his last two starts they were in hot contests including behind Ok Corral. The form of the Paul Nicholls yard alone would give him a chance but I think he’ll struggle to reverse from with Bags Groove.
Castafoire was a 128 rated hurdler and sprung a massive shock when snugly taking the Grade 2 Altcar Novices’ Chase. There are question marks over that form. Slate House burst a blood vessel and favourite Jerrysback doesn’t look the real deal. I find it hard to see him troubling the principals but he’s on an upward curve.
Selection: Bags Groove
This Grade 2 contest has been won by some very smart horses down through the years including Well Chief (2003), Binocular (2008), Zarkandar (20110 and Zubayr (2016). These races can be very hard to asses given that many have little or no experience over hurdles.
One of the leading French imports is Fusil Raffles who represents leading connections. He was a winner over hurdles in his native France in July and although we haven’t seen him since a big run can be expected.
Alan King has a fantastic record with juveniles and is represented here by Giving Glances. She was won two of her three starts over hurdles but worryingly pulled up on her other start at Aintree. The last of her victories was in a listed hurdle. This is the best form on offer but I can’t see her adding to her tally.
Petit Palais was a maiden winner on the flat for John Gosden and opened his account first time of asking for new connections at Ludlow. That probably wasn’t the strongest race but there was a lot to like about that performance and he has strong claims.
Selection: Petit Palais
Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle
At last, we get to see the much talked about Angels Breath in action again. Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old has headed the ante-post market for the Supreme since making a winning debut for the yard in a Grade 2 at Ascot in December. It is slightly worrying that he’s lacking in experience but such is the latent ability he has shown, he can overcome this inexperience.
It’ll be very interesting to see how he fares as connections seem to have another live Supreme contender in the form of last weekend’s Betfair Hurdle winner Al Dancer.
It’s the ex-flat performer Scarlet Dragon that may provide the most resistance to the favourite. Alan King’s gelding is rated 104 on the flat and showed aptitude by finishing runner-up in a Grade 2 on his first start over timber last season. He was outclassed in a Grade 1 at the Aintree festival and then returned to hurdles with a bang by running away with a Huntingdon novice vent in January.
Of the others Rouge Vif, Daphne Du Clos and Southfield Stone can battle it out for the minor honours.
Selection: Angels Breath
888 Sport Handicap Chase
Glen Rocco tops the market here and he is one of my favourite horses in training. Nick Gifford’s charge is amde for fences and his last two pieces of form, in particular, are very strong. He finished runner-up to Glen Forsa two starts back and we all know how strong hat form looks now. Then he followed this up with a 23 length drumming of Bally Longford.
The in-form Paul Nicholls’ team is represented by Adrien Du Pont who was a good winner at Kempton over Christmas. That being said he doesn’t win that often and should he get in a battle with Glen Rocco, I can’t see him coming out the right side of it.
Talkischeap was a beaten favourite behind On The Blind Side at Kempton last month. Prior to that, he was Grade 2 placed and a nice winner at Doncaster over Theatre Territory. I think his form has plateaued but he should give his running.
Of the others, Didero Vallis is chasing a hat-trick, while Double Shuffle is the class act in the field.
Selection: Glen Rocco
This marathon race is a real favourite among racing fans and has been won by some dour stayers. The forecasted good to soft going will make getting this trip much easier for all facing the starter.
A quick look at the most recent winners shows that three of the last five winners have been aged 9 or 10 and carried exactly 11 stone to victory. None of the runners fit this bill exactly this year but Rock On Fruity and Crosspark have similar profiles.
Crosspark has been in great form all season including when finishing third in the Classic Chase when last in action. The step up in trip looks likely to suit and he must go close.
Rock On Fruity had been regressive for Charles Byrnes in Ireland but has won his last two starts for Ben Haslam. He now runs off a career high mark of 137, which is likley to be beyond him.
Mysteree won this last year off 127 and having run poorly this season, he’s back down to that mark again. He showed some spark still remained when ninth in the Welsh National most recently. Michael Scudamore has reached for first-time blinkers on his now veteran. If they have the desired effect, he may land back to back renewals.
Former Scottish National winner Vicente will be many people’s idea of the winner as he is back down to his last winning mark. I can’t argue too much, he looks sure to be bang there at the finish but there might be one or two horses better handicapped.
Dan Skelton runs Ange Des Malberaux who has gone up 34 pounds in the handicap since joining the yard. He was won his last two starts but in truth, I find it hard to see him anding the hat-trick even with only 10-5 on his back.