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Yesterday was very underwhelming, and the selections were below par. Good Time Jonny was well supported and went off 10/3 second fav, whilst Northern Bound took a walk in the market, and his drift justified his run. I've gone back to Cheltenham for three selection for Sunday.
This is a nice novice race and it will be a good indicator of what level horses they are and if they will be vying for some of the big prize handicaps later in the season or even more. OSCAR ELITE catches the eye for Colin Tizzard (basically Joe Tizzard training in the name of Colin) and Brendan Powell. The Tizzard yard and Powell combination has hit the ground running this season, after a couple of poor previous seasons, and they have their horses in fine nick.
The only horse not to have a race over fences in this contest is the selection, but I don't think it will be as big of a deal as it normally would. He's clearly a talented horse, which we saw last season where he finished runner-up in the Albert Bartlett, and some nice races elsewhere. He is a previous PTP winner and has ran between the flags on three occasions, so has the experience over a fence, but not over rules.
On official ratings he is the second worst horse in the race, but I think he could become the best in here. He holds Threeunderthrufive on hurdles form, being in front of that horse on two occasions. Does He Know is a game horse, but has to give away 8lbs to the selection, and I think that could be a tough task. As for the other two, Streets Of Doyen shouldn't be underestimated for a trainer who does well when he sends his horse to this track, but his form over fences to date doesn't look too encouraging. The Twiston-Davies horse is an interesting runner, and it's up for debate whether he would've won if he didn't try to jump the rail last time, and I think he could be the main danger.
A horse who I tipped up last time he ran was EMPIRE DE MAULDE and he gave us a nice winner when winning a Class 2 race at Kelso. He was very well backed that day, and the manner in which he won suggested he had plenty left under the bonnet, so the 5lb rise he has been given doesn't look too harsh, and I believe he can win again.
This is a totally different test for the selection, as it is at Cheltenham and the jumping test will be more difficult, but based on what we saw last time where his jumping was spot-on, this shouldn't be an issue. James Ewart is a good trainer for plotting out targets for his horses, and he doesn't send many to this track, so that alone gives the confidence that he thinks that his horse is well ahead of his current handicap rating of 137.
The selection is still a 7yo, and has bags more of improvement to come, whereas the others in the race are all arguably coming towards the end of their best and it's hard to envisage any of them getting any better. I expect Empire De Maulde to travel very strongly through the race, and Brian Hughes running down the hill on the bridle, and then it should be a question of whether he'll stay up the Cheltenham hill. James Ewart must believe he has the stamina to do so, as he is being targeted at the Scottish National in the long run, so will have to stay 4m to win that, so this must be fine for him.
To win this race I think you need to well handicapped, and I think the horse that fills that bill is JESSE EVANS. This still lightly raced 5yo has a British rating of 143, but is 138 for today as he gets the assistance of 5lb claimer E Walsh doing the steering.
I think the form of the Galway hurdle is arguably the strongest form on offer in this race, and Jesse Evans finished 4th in that race and was far from disgraced as he finished 2.5 lengths behind the winner. Saldier was the winner that day, and I'm fairly certain he will be competing and running well in the Grade 1 races at some point during the season. Milkwood was second, and from that alone with the weight & distance difference between that horse, Jesse Evans holds a lot of horses on collateral form alone. Cape Gentleman was 3rd and he's proven to be a smart novice chaser, despite the fact he was heavily beaten yesterday by another classy looking horse. Tudor City who races in this today was 5th, 2.25 lengths behind Jesse Evans, and even though he gets a pull in the weights, I can't see how he reverses that form.
Noel Meade has got two flat runs into this lad so he will be fit and ready to rock and roll for this race, as it would've been a target as it offers a decent prize to the winner. There will be no excuses on the fitness side of things, and he should come into this as one of the fittest. He's clearly in good form as his flat runs yielded a 2nd place and a win. For this kind of race you need a horse who will stay the 2m and see out strongly, and that is another positive to this horse. He was staying on strongly in the Galway hurdle, and that is a stiff track and puts emphasis on the stamina, so there should be no issues with him powering up the hill off a strong pace, which more than likely be set.