In the British Stallion Studs EBF Mares “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle (2.30) at Market Rasen, Buttercup is an interesting contender. Formerly in the charge of top French jump trainer François-Marie Cottin, for whom she remained a maiden after eight starts, the Limnos mare made a promising debut for new trainer Venetia Williams over 2 miles 5 furlongs at Warwick twelve days ago. She came to challenge at the second last flight on that occasion but, having been carried left after the last, she could only stay on at one pace to finish third, beaten 1¾ lengths, behind the winner Savingforvegas.
Nevertheless, that form looks decent, with the second, Surtee De Berlais, and the fourth, Mia’s Storm, having previously run creditably in defeat in Listed company and dropping back half a mile or so in distance could be a shrewd move on the part of her new connections. Venetia Williams has a healthy 8-30 (27%) strike rate overall at Market Rasen over the last five seasons, so it could be time for Buttercup to blossom.
Selections: Market Rasen 2.30 Buttercup to win
The Openbet Amateur Riders’ Handicap Hurdle (4.30) wouldn’t be the most reliable selection source, but may provide Pandorica with an opportunity to record his second win over obstacles. Bernard Llewellyn’s 8-year-old mare has been well beaten in better company on both starts this campaign, but may be better judged on her form in this sort of grade earlier in the year.
The daughter of Indesatchel is 5lb lower in the weights than when third of six, beaten 4½ lengths, in a mares’ handicap hurdle at Chepstow in March and merits close attention on that form, especially as she appears versatile with regard to underfoot conditions. Interestingly, Welsh point-to-point champion rider, and erstwhile assistant trainer to Tim Vaughan, Rhys Hughes, has his first ride under National Hunt rules for six years, so the hint may be worth taking.
Selections: Ludlow 4.30 Pandorica to win
The going at Doncaster is currently good to soft, good in places and faster underfoot conditions have attracted over 100 runners in seven races on Friday. The Sky Bet Thanks Jen Noble Maiden Hurdle (3.40) is the most competitive race on the card, numerically, but there are reasons to expect a forward showing from Kingussie, trained in Gloucestershire by Ben Pauling.
Although an 8-year-old, the Diktat gelding didn’t see a racecourse until last May, when making a winning debut for Shaun Lycett in a ‘bumper’ at Stratford. Now with a yard that’s undeniably going places, he made a satisfactory debut over obstacles when fourth of 14, beaten 6½ lengths, behind Que Sera in a maiden hurdle at Towcester in December. That form has yet to be properly tested but, while the runner-up, Ballypoint, finished last of six in a Grade 2 contest at Haydock last week, the sixth, Scooter Boy, won a better maiden hurdle at Huntingdon earlier this month.
The form appears strong enough, in the context of this race, and Kingussie should improve for his first run for over a year. Indeed, having won on good going at Stratford, drying ground is almost certainly in his favour and his running style suggests that the step up to 2 miles 3 furlongs won’t do his chances any hard either. Jockey Nico De Boinville has a 10-40 (25%) strike rate for the yard this season, so there’s every reason to expect Kingussie to go well at a decent price.
Selection: Doncaster 3.40 Kingussie
In the Thank You & Farewell Jane Hedley Handicap Hurdle (3.30) at Market Rasen on Thursday, Cotillion returned to action at Chester in July three years, to the day, since his last run but, although now a 10-year-old, has looked as least as good as ever over hurdles this season. The Sadler’s Wells gelding has recorded two facile victories in selling handicap hurdles at Leicester and Fakenham and, unsurprisingly, takes a rise in class.
Nevertheless, he’s still only 2lb higher in the weights than when winning a Class 2 affair at Chepstow as a 7-year-old and such was the manner of his victory, on soft going, at Fakenham three weeks ago that he must be followed until beaten. In fact, the Fakenham form has already been franked by the remote third, Guaracha, so Cotillion appears to have an outstanding chance, without even considering that jockey Toby Wheeler can claim 10lb, by virtue of riding for his own yard.
In other news, with the Cheltenham Festival just around the corner, we’ll be sure to start covering that in much more detail soon, with our choice picks, naps and ones to watch highlighted. Then of course before we know it, it’s the big one in April, namely the Grand National. You can check out some of the 2016 Grand National runners here, alongside their current betting odds. I’ve got my eye on a couple, but it’s early days yet, so will keep my cards close to my chest for now!
Selection: Market Rasen 3.30 Cotillion to win