HAPPY New Year everyone and it's all systems go for a very busy and exciting start to 2020.
Musselburgh put on an interesting card, with a couple of races covered on ITV, and EL PICADOR (12.30) would be an appropriate Scottish owned and trained winner of their opening First Foot Juvenile Hurdle.
The gelding, formerly with Sir Michael Stoute, built on his promising hurdles debut for Keith Dalgleish with a nine lengths thrashing of Hasankey over course and distance last month. El Picador holds chief rival Extreme Force marginally on a collateral form line through Hasankay and it is an interesting curtain-raiser.
Dalgleish also has prospects of landing the Hair Of The Dog Handicap Hurdle with top weight ONE NIGHT IN MILAN (1.05), an excellent second to Olly Murphy’s Notre Pari at Aintree in early December.
A four-time career winner, One Night In Milan should stay this longer trip, with possibly most to fear from Lucinda Russell’s course and distance scorer Mighty Thunder.
At Cheltenham, Kalashnikov heads the betting as well as the weights in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase and sets a high standard. He has twice let down favourite backers this season and the assessor has raised Kalashnikov 5lb for his short head defeat at the hands of Oldgrangewood 33 days ago.
With 12 runners declared the each-way play is CEPAGE (2.00).
Venetia Williams and Charlie Deutsche teamed up to land this prize last year with Aso and stablemate Cepage ran an excellent fourth to Warthog, conceding lumps of weight, in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup here in mid-December.
His earlier second to Riders Onthe Storm at Aintree is looking a strong piece of form given subsequent events. Paddy Power are top-priced 8-1 and are going four places each-way.
Might Bite reverts to the smaller obstacles in the 3m handicap hurdle and races off a 7lb lower mark than over fences. He made an early exit behind Native River at Aintree last month but will again have his supporters.
SKANDIBURG (2.35) has been raised 6lb for scoring in game fashion at Aintree and his earlier short head defeat by Honest Vic is looking smart form on the back of the winner’s subsequent success at Kempton on Boxing Day. He has it to prove on this more undulating track but arrives fresh from a 53-day break.
The Jam Man was sent off at 33-1 but travelled like a dream before putting a 16-runner handicap to bed at Navan. He is a horse on a roll.
Goodbye Dancer is 4lb out of the handicap but should still run with distinction.
At Southwell, MAKAMBE (12.10) will be hard to beat if responding to first-time blinkers. He unseated his rider and ran loose on his previous visit to the track but that didn't prevent a fine effort in third behind Directory and Tukhoom.
Richard Fahey enjoyed double success at Lingfield yesterday and course winner Jazz Hands is clearly a dangerous opponent.
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