The end of February, for me, has always been the start of the countdown to the Cheltenham Festival. Happily in the last week we have seen races that were perhaps looking a bit below-par or predictable shaken up.
Soaring Glory has been mentioned by many as a candidate to upset Appreciate It in the Sky Bet Supreme, Champ shook up the market in the Wellchild Cheltenham Gold Cup but, most excitingly of all, Tritonic emerged as a bona-fide contender for the JCB Triumph Hurdle when he showed a smart gear change to win the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday, with connections suggesting a greater stamina test would suit him even better.
The eye-catcher of the week for me came at Taunton last Tuesday, when Pic D’Orhy was narrowly touched off in a two-mile handicap hurdle. He didn’t look to get the most forceful ride in the finish (see below) and the sharp nature of the Taunton track was surely far from ideal.
Last season’s Betfair Hurdle winner certainly interests me at 20-1 for the McCoy Contractors County Hurdle.
I have four selections for Monday, all from Plumpton.
12.30 Plumpton: Ding Ding at a general 8-1
Ding Ding has managed six wins in her career with three pieces of criteria seeming to be particularly important to her; all six have been achieved at Plumpton and all six have come with Marc Goldstein in the saddle, with four of them coming on good ground.
In this race she gets all three. It is true that her last win was two years ago but this was also the last time she raced on good ground.
Her best recent run, when second in December, came on good to soft going. That was off a mark of 104 and she has now slipped to a mark of 101, which is appealing enough considering her highest winning mark is 108.
It is only right to draw attention to the fact that she isn’t strictly weighted to reverse the form with the re-opposing Jungle Prose, given that last time they met over course and distance she was beaten a length in receipt of 6lb and now only receives 3lb.
However, I think it’s reasonable to think Ding Ding will improve for this better surface, while I’m not sure Jungle Prose will. At a decent price, Ding Ding has outstanding claims of winning again at Plumpton.
1.00 Plumpton: Uallrightharry at 14-1 with bet365
A nine-year-old cannot often be legitimately referred to as “unexposed under Rules” but Uallrightharry has had only ten career runs and might just be.
He has on occasion struggled to keep the partnership with his jockey intact but when he does complete he invariably runs to a solid and consistent standard. The same cannot be said for many among the opposition.
Crucially, he has winning form over course and distance and is now only 3lb higher, he looked like going close off a mark 1lb higher only to unseat late on.
He also has winning form on good ground and is partnered with Sean Houlihan who has a strike rate of 33% at Plumpton in the past year.
Given that nearly all of his rivals lack consistency - and that the likely favourite, Summit Like Herbie, looked far from resolute last time - I’m very happy to side with him. Bet365 offer a standout 14-1.
1.30 Plumpton: Saggazza at 10-1 with bet365
As a racing obsessive I follow plenty of trainers on social media. Jo Davis is a trainer who always puts up interesting content, a lot of it explaining what an enigma and a puzzle Saggazza has been. She’s often made reference to his wayward nature and the fact he has allergies that make feeding him complex.
He certainly poses a puzzle to punters in this race. Do we believe what we saw last time at Newbury when he was beaten only a length and a half off level weights by the now 140-rated My Drogo, with the 120-rated Sopran Thor nine lengths further behind? Or do we judge him on his 40-length beating at Exeter when he was in and around horses rated in the region of 110.
My dear Mum instilled in me to think the best of people and that same attitude has often served me well when judging horses. So I’m going to take the view that off a mark of 115 Saggazza is well-handicapped; that he will eat his special breakfast; and not get too lit up after a three-month break and show that Newbury run was no fluke.
2.40 Plumpton: Jackson Hill at 4-1 with bet365
Jackson Hill took 16 runs to lose his maiden status but has since backed up that winning run at Wincanton with a creditable second to a well-handicapped horse.
Like my other selections on Monday, his best form has come on a sound surface. He also has good form at Plumpton, when a bout a length runner-up over hurdles to War Lord when in receipt of 4lb, War Lord is now rated 137.
His likely market rival is Dandolo Du Gite, who was four lengths behind at Wincanton and is now 3lb better off at the weights. But I don’t see this being enough to turn the form around, especially with the underrated Mitchell Bastyan claiming a valuable 3lb. He must have outstanding claims in this.
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