By Tony Calvin
Lingfield and Southwell have survived the inspections, so Jumps racing returns on Monday, but the only turf that is exercising the minds of punters is Cheltenham’s and just how soft it will be a week tomorrow.
Up until last week, every ante-post preview contained the phrase “on the expected better ground at the Festival” but that assumption is now increasingly questionable after 200 tonnes of snow apparently landed on the course and an unsettled forecast is on the cards from here on until the four-day meeting starts on March 13.
Everyone knows that the course drains and dries out very quickly these days, but the possibility of soft ground on the opening day has heightened the prospect of Samcro rocking up to Cheltenham a day earlier than expected in the opening race of the Festival - the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
I mentioned in Racing UK’s Betting Lab on Friday that bet365 are bizarrely offering Samcro are 14-1 non-runner no-bet for the two-miler – whether it be as a marketing ploy, or logistical reasons such as Cash Out, I don’t know for sure. He would be a 6-4 chance at best if he was redirected there from the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on account of testing ground. Indeed, other firms offering the same bet are going just 6-4.
But bet365’s 14s was still there, and being laid to decent size by all accounts, until 8am on Monday morning (they cut him to 9-1) so I am pretty sure there will be some consternation in Stoke at the moment, which may turn in to terror if Cheltenham get any rain this week.
Samcro switching to the Supreme, given testing conditions, is a real possibility.Samcro has won his six starts under Rules by an aggregate margin of 59 and a half lengths (PA)
Anyway, I am spoiled by four Monday meetings, so I better crack on.
Mind you, one of those is a “jumpers bumpers” card at Kempton, so I am happy to give that a swerve, even though there are some pretty hurdlers and chasers on show, which of course is the whole point of the exercise. And we know Monday is a small-stakes day.
Black Narcissus did not look to be in love with the game over hurdles at Taunton last time when tenth of 11, but she is worth chancing back over fences off a falling mark and with first-time cheekpieces applied.
She did not run too badly, off a 5lb higher mark, at Towcester previously and she is weighted to win again if showing just a touch of her old zest.
She is 10lb lower than a fair third at Ffos Las in these heavy conditions in November and also occupied the same position in her only start here back in 2015.
Hopefully the cheekpieces can rev her up a bit – the stable is 0 from 4 using this option in recent years, though - as trip and ground are ideal for her, and the handicapper has given her a real chance.
Southwell does not look to be the most attractive punting card but hopefully there are two exceptions, and Tomkevi is hopefully the first, albeit at a price that would be at the lower end of my betting scale.
He is rated 11lb lower over hurdles than fences, and he came back to form when third at Catterick last time.
He races off the same mark and a reproduction of that effort could easily be good enough. That looked a strong race of its kind at the time and that impression has been confirmed since with the winner, Planet Nine, following up next time and the runner-up, Kansas City Chief, finished a good second.
His best recent efforts have come on a better surface than he will encounter on Monday, but he has plenty of winning form in deep and heavy ground, so I am not worried on that score.
Ardmayle was the Ali Stronge stable’s last scorer back in January, and it is hoped that he can get them back in the winner’s enclosure again.
He has gone up 4lb for his win in heavy ground at Leicester last time, but he still looks competitively weighted – he is 8lb higher over fences – and the step back up to 2m4f should not be an issue for this winning pointer. He won over this trip in a Leicester handicap chase this time last year.
Dolphin Village interested me in the 7.15pm, but I was expecting more than 7-1.
The step back in trip is an obvious question mark, and a pretty serious one, as all his best form down the years has come on over 1m3f/1m4f.
But there is a lot of probable pace in th race – four of his rivals like to go forward – so hopefully his stamina will come into play. And there is little doubt that he is now on a very winnable mark.
He has plummeted down to the weights, and is now 25lb lower than he was this time last season, despite running one of his better efforts in a while when fourth at Lingfield recently.
The drop in grade to a 0-60 could just see him outclass these (he ran in this class two starts ago, but without his hood) albeit that the doubt about the trip looms large. And I wanted more than 7-1 to get involved, so a reluctant no bet.
So Pushkin Museum is my only play at Wolverhampton. His style of racing is to break well and try to get a prominent position just off the pace, if not lead, so being drawn eight of 11 is hardly ideal.
But the horse has a very solid profile for this race. He may not have many secrets from the handicapper, but he is only 3lb higher than when winning over course and distance three starts ago and races off the same mark as when beaten just over a length here last time.
As I said he does not look especially well treated at the moment – though he used to operate at a much higher level years ago – so the booking of 5lb claimer Connor Murtagh could be a shrewd move. Murtagh has ridden the horse twice, including when beaten just a neck at th course last April.
Tony Calvin's Monday tips:
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