By Chris Dixon
Fontwell provide the best of the domestic racing action today with their big race of the year, the Grade Two National Spirit Hurdle taking centre stage at 3.20.
Last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up Lil Rockerfeller, who won this race in 2016, heads the market for the race and looks the one to beat, though Old Guard and Air Horse One have enough solid handicap form in the book to be considered real dangers over this trip at the weights and the market looks about right to me.
So, onto other races on the card plus one from Southwell for today’s four selections.
This does not look a strong race and having made a winning start to his chase career at Musselburgh last time I’m siding with The Last But One to follow up.
Paul Nicholls’s charge impressed with his jumping that day and although left clear at the last when his main challenger fell, he was only being held together and I took the view he would have won anyway.
A 4lb rise for that win looks pretty fair and I suspect he’s still a well handicapped horse off the mark while the longer trip should bring about some improvement.
Brown Bear likes the track and has won off this mark over hurdles this season and looks the main threat but his history of bleeding is a concern.
Useful Flat performer Battalion makes his hurdles debut here ahead of a possible tilt at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but he doesn’t strike me as an obvious type to take to hurdling and he looks a bit too short to me.
George Gently is the one to make most appeal having made an encouraging debut in France when not beaten far by Danseur Jaguen who has since gone on to prove himself pretty useful over fences in France, including when beating future Grade 1 winner Terrefort in the autumn.
His jumping improved through the race that day and it’s interesting that they’ve sent him to Southwell where the hurdles are similar to the ones in France, while I like the way he picked up for pressure in the closing stages.
The absence of 516 days since is a slight concern but Dan Skelton is well capable of readying one first time up off that sort of layoff and if he has his ready to roll then he might just be up to making a winning British debut.
A useful performer on the Flat, Niblawi has made an encouraging start to his career over hurdles and looks likely to be suited by racing on slightly better ground for the first time in this sphere.
Too keen in very deep ground at Haydock when a beaten favourite on his hurdles debut in December, the form of that race has been boosted by both the winner and the third since.
An eyecatcher in what looked a good race at Doncaster last time (travelled well but not knocked about up the straight) he looks capable of better yet and while it may be in handicaps that he really progresses I think a similar effort to what he’s already produced may be enough today.
There’s obvious risks attached to the final selection of the afternoon as Robinsson has clearly had problems having only run once since November of 2015 and been off the track 675 days since his last outing when tailed off at Warwick.
However, the handicapper has given him a chance by allowing him to run off a mark of 110 which would leave him looking very well handicapped on the best of his form from a couple of years ago and he’s starting out over what looks the right trip in first time cheekpieces.
I’m encouraged by the record of Oliver Sherwood bringing horses back from lengthy absences, with the form figures of his runners returning from more than a year off the track since the start of 2016 reading 026P1P432127 and he’s a big enough price to take a chance with.
Canyouringmeback looks a possible improver on handicap debut and also looks of interest.
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