It is not often on a Monday afternoon that you get a Cheltenham Festival winner clashing with a Fighting Fifth Hurdle hero but that’s how this week will get under way.
The 2m novices’ chase at Ayr (1.25) has attracted Coral Cup victor Dame De Compagne, who will be having her first start over fences, and Cornerstone Lad, who lowered the colours of Buveur D’Air at Newcastle the season before last.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that there are no other runners, and so we have a good old-fashioned match, with bookmakers making the pair similar prices.
Cornerstone Lad will possibly be at a fitness advantage and showed promise on his debut over fences at Haydock last month, but I fancy Dame De Compagne will pick him off in the closing stages, even if the trip is short of her best.
The Racing TV cameras will be on hand to capture all the action there and at Punchestown, where the first of my three fancies runs. An each-way patent could be the way to play.
1.35 Punchestown: Spare Brakes at a general 5-1
Trainer Robert Tyner had just four winners in 2020 but has already saddled two winners from six runners this month (plus a second at Punchestown on Sunday) and that augurs well for Spare Brakes, who is able to run off a mark 11lb lower than over fences in this 2m handicap hurdle for amateur riders.
Spare Brakes contributed 25 per cent of Tyner’s victories last year – he landed a handicap chase at Navan – and shaped as if he ready to strike again when typically coming from off the pace to finish third in a competitive contest at Limerick over Christmas.
The pair that beat him that day – an unexposed five-year-old and a gambled-on JP McManus runner – both hand plenty going for them but, by contrast, most of the opposition on Monday are frustrating characters or have something to prove.
A decent gallop is on the cards and that will play into the hands of Spare Brakes, who should at the very least be hard to keep out of the frame. Resurrected Duke has teased me once too often but I’ll probably have a saver on Hardwired, an exuberant five-year-old who will be having his first start in handicap company.
1.55 Ayr: Sutton Manor at 10-1 with Sky Bet and William Hill
It’s probably slipped your mind that Sutton Manor finished fifth in the Pertemps Final off a mark of 142 in the 2017 Pertemps Final when he was trained by Gordon Elliott. It had certainly escaped mine!
A stack of water has flowed under the bridge since then and he now finds himself as the outsider of seven in this 0-120 handicap chase over 3m3f, having not won for three years and been beaten out of sight in three completed starts for Lucinda Russell.
However, he was in the process of showing much more when crashing out at Haydock last time and, while it was too far out to know what would have happened, my hunch is that he would have played a part in the finish.
This Class 4 contest is much weaker than the Class 2/Class 3 races he has previously contested for Russell and he would not need to retain anything like his ability of old to make an impact off a mark of 115.
Perhaps his latest run was a red herring but at a double-figure price he’s worth risking.
2.30 Ayr: Skipping On at a general 5-1
Skipping On is much more reliable than most horses who run regularly at a modest level and I’m surprised he’s a s big as 5-1 to scoop this prize. As a consequence, he rates today’s nap.
He certainly wasn’t winning out of turn at Warwick on New Year’s Eve and a 3lb rise is not harsh, not least because he’s won off 2lb higher in the past. Trip and ground are fine.
His previous narrow defeats at Hexham and Uttoxeter probably rate even better efforts (he bumped into a course specialist at the former venue and the latter was a decent race of its type) and the fact that Conor O’Farrell takes over for the first time is another positive.
I fancy Vocaliser will pose the main threat. He faded quite tamely at Wincanton last time but he had been in great heart before that and is now reunited with Fergus Gregory, who is 2-2 on him.Bring home the Jumps with a free month of Racing TV! Watch full coverage of the best British and Irish meetings. Start your free month at racingtv.com/freemonth!
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