Racing TV pundit and on-course punter Adam Norman is taking on Native River this weekend, reveals his main fancies on Saturday and Sunday plus an eyecatcher from last week.
The end of a busy punting week took me to Fighting Fifth Hurdle day at Newcastle on Saturday, following the abandonment of the two-day Doncaster meeting that I usually attend.
It is normally one of the busiest and most stressful days of the season, keeping an eye on matters in the paddock at Donny while trying to watch and punt on three decent ‘away’ meetings.
The super-early start is an additional mind-scrambler and they were already in the paddock when I rocked up at Gosforth Park, which fielded a winter crowd second only to the one in attendance on Eider Chase day.
A disappointing Bangor card meant that I could focus on matters at hand – barring the minor distraction of Newbury - one of the chief supporting races on the card was ‘The French Furze’, a Grade Two novices hurdle won by 40-1 shot Prince Kayf.
Although there probably wasn’t a fluke about the result, I do think Espoir De Romay is the one to take from the race.
Kim Bailey’s five-year-old made virtually all the running to win on his hurdling debut at Warwick three weeks previously, but he was up three furlongs in trip here and over-raced for much of the 2m6f contest.
The holding ground is not an excuse, but was hardly ideal for this big, strong and classy looking individual, who really took the eye in the prelims. He was only run out of things late on, and I would expect him to surpass this effort next time out before progressing into a useful chaser.
Sue Smith’s horses continue to be well backed, particularly now that she has a couple of winners on the board, but neither Hill Sixteen or Rare Clouds threatened to add to the tally and it remains a yard I will largely steer clear of until the turn of the year.
It promises to be another extremely busy weekend again, with all four meetings facing little threat from the weather forecast barring a small amount of rain, which should serve to freshen up the ground that has become tacky and holding.
There are also big meetings at Racing TV tracks Huntingdon and Kelso on Sunday and, with more than 50 horses in my tracker entered (including five in one race!) I will need to be on my mettle as a missed winner is worse than backing a loser at this time of year!
Wetherby looks an absolute minefield at this early stage, but the first one I really like at Aintree is Killaro Boy in the Grand Sefton over the National fences.
Having gone down by the narrowest margin in the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter in June, he then chased home the well handicapped Burtons Well in a competitive veterans’ chase over the Mildmay fences at Aintree in October.
I was quite taken by this imposing individual who, although lightly raced, had some pretty solid form when trained in Ireland, and he travelled and jumped with notable verve before being run down by the better horse on the day.
Everything about that performance suggested the National fences and the shorter trip would suit ideally and providing Nicky Henderson runs either Casablanca Mix or Gold Present he will have a lovely weight to carry.
Yes, it is a competitive race, but he rates a fairly confident choice to prove himself well handicapped off the same mark as last time and can provide trainer Henry Oliver with a big Saturday winner.
If Liverpool misses the forecast showers, I would be tempted to take on Native River at shortish odds in the Many Clouds Chase on the Mildmay Course, with old sparring partner Might Bite the obvious one at the weights.
However, I wouldn’t give up on my Charlie Hall tip Aso, who would have more chance of staying this extended three miles on better ground, while Black Corton ran a personal best on the figures at Ascot last time and with a fitness advantage, he could defy a pesky weight concession to the leading players.
I will be hoping to get the day off to a good start down at Chepstow where Éclair De Guye looks to have been let in lightly with just a 3lb rise for a cosy victory at Fontwell last time, while nothing really stood out on a wildly competitive looking Sandown card.
On Sunday, Huntingdon host their big race day of the year featuring the Peterborough Chase, although with running plans far from clear as I write there seems little point on speculating who might be taking home the £37k prize.
In the earlier novice chase though, it is interesting to see Breaking Waves entered just a fortnight after a lamentable effort when strongly fancied for a competitive handicap hurdle at Haydock.
He looked to have gone amiss from an early stage but clearly the five-year-old has been given a clean bill of health, and with trainer Noel Williams still in fine form I’ll be looking to claw back Lancashire losses - and then some - at a track where he won his bumper and novice hurdle.
I do love my bumpers as a betting medium and none has impressed more this season than Harry Fry’s scopey mare White Hart Lady, who should take the world of beating later on the Huntingdon card as I thought she would come on plenty before hosing up at Aintree six weeks ago.
Finally, Ruth Jefferson’s horses have been running well of late and she has a few entries over the weekend, not least stable star Waiting Patiently who has three options, and will no doubt run where the ground is softest.
However, the one I like is Blossoming Forth who showed a good deal of promise on her hurdles debut at Wetherby last time, and I am hoping this Irish point-to-point winner can get off the mark under rules in a novices' hurdle for mares up at Kelso on Sunday.
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