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Money was in for Rebel Intentions who more than halved in price, but the jockey went for completely different tactics to what has been best on the horse. He lined up in first three, thought sack that and put him in last place, which the horse clearly hated as he was off the bridle as soon as it happened. Strange decision. However, it was great to see the 2pt NAP come in as Djelo ran out a very ready winner. His jumping wasn't as accurate as I'd hoped, but he's a low jumper and mistakes are going to be likely as a novice, but the main thing was that he got the win.
Haydock 12:55 – El Elefante 10/3 (1pt, WilliamHill)
Mares races at the top level often to throw up some weird and wacky results, but I thought El Elefante looked the most solid in this contest.
The strongest form a mare can have is when they mix it with the lads, and that's what El Elefante has on her C.V. She finished 5th/9 in a hot Class 2 handicap at the October meeting at Cheltenham, she ran well for a long way, but I think the good ground wasn't to her liking considering she had previously won on her three previous starts in bumpers andon hurdles debut on soft ground. She was 2nd in her sole PTP run, also coming on soft ground, so the fast ground she encountered back in October was clearly not going to be her ideal surface.
Lucinda Russell won this race last year with Haute Estime, and Lucinda sent her Grade 1 winning hurdler, Apple Away to the same race that El Elefante finished 5th at Cheltenham, so clearly she holds this horse in a similar level to Apple Away. The form from that Cheltenham fifth looks decent with the 2nd finishing as runner-up in a Grade 3 next time out, the 4th and 6th have won their following races and the winner looks a very smart horse on good ground.
Haydock 1:30 – Bill Baxter 13/2 (0.5pt EW, Bet365)
I'm giving a chance to Bill Baxter in this extended 3m 1f race, which looks to be a tough ask from 12st.
Though he is carrying top weight in this contest, I think he has the class to win a race of this nature at this distance. He did most of his winning over 2m 4f – 2m 6f last year in his first season of fences, but he's always looked to be that horse who'd do better over further, and I don't think he did much wrong in the Coral Gold Cup at the start of this month when finishing 8th. Carrying top weight on heavy ground wouldn't entice many to have a punt on a horse, but I listened to Tom Segal mention that top weights on soft ground are more attractive than they are on good ground, and his reasoning for it is because they go much slower on testing ground, which gives the chance to the top weights to stay in contention and then their class shines through in the latter stages, and I agree.
Bill Baxter is the flag bearer of the Warren Greatrex yard, who has dropped off from five or so years ago when he had a handful of decent prospects. They really rate this lad and it's interesting they are coming for this race just three weeks after the Coral Gold Cup, which clearly didn't leave a mark, as they fancy their shot in today's race. What is interesting is that James Bowen has evidently gone to Haydock for this ride in particular, with it being £26,000 to the winner. He could've easily gone to Ascot and taken the ride on Luccia who has a decent chance in a pot which is over 3x as much as this race, so he must feel like Bill Baxter has a great chance of winning.
Haydock 2:40 – Rose Sea Has 9/1 (0.5pt, Bet365)
I can see why Real Stone will be heavily supported on Saturday. He won by 21L over course and distance last time out and Tristan Durrell takes off 5lbs, meaning he has only gone up 3lbs for that easy win, but it wasn't a competitive race and I think he is vulnerable to a well-handicapped horse.
My dart landed on Rose Sea Has who relishes soft conditions and has dropped below his last winning mark by 3lbs, which makes him a worthy bet against the Skelton horse. His recent form hasn't been great, but I thought he ran well enough on seasonal reappearance to prove he still has the ability to win races. He was beaten by General Medrano who has since gone up 17lbs in the weights and Rose Sea Has was still going very strongly before turning for home. His form has dipped since that, but it's interesting that they've opted for the first time blinkers now he's on such a low mark.
He is a horse who likes to run from the front, so I'm hoping the first-time blinkers will fire him up, get him into a nice jumping rhythm and be hard to peg back on a track which suits frontrunners.
Ascot 2:25 – West Balboa 7/2 (1pt, Bet365)
The Long Walk Hurdle is a very wide open race this year, which is the case for the entire staying division, no one has put down their mark and cemented themselves as the front runner for the big races in the Spring. The talking horse has been Crambo who was well-fancied last time out, was given far too much to do, and as a result of that Connor Brace has been booted off by Fergal and Jonathan Burke gets on for the first time. Whether that's the right or wrong decision, time will tell. He is the market favourite, which I can understand as he is unexposed at the trip and looks to be going the right way, but I've got to take him on all things achieved.
At the top of the market is West Balboa and I think this mare has the better form to be the price she is at. It isn't surprising to see her as joint favourite with Crambo, but I was hoping for a slightly bigger price thinking the bookies would side with the older horses. However, I still think she is a worthy bet at the prices and I think she has a great chance of winning this. Dan Skelton has done this a fair few times over the years in the staying contests by using mares. He went close a few years in a row at the Aintree Stayers when Roksana finished as runner-up on two occasions. West Balboa sports the same colours as Roksana, so it's not a surprise to see them attempt this route for this unexposed mare who won a Grade 3 over 3m at Aintree earlier in April by 5L. Her return to action was a good run as she ran out a ready winner of 12L to Brewin'upastorm, I wouldn't trust the latter form, but at a time where the Skelton horses have been needed their first run, she didn't look rusty at all.
Getting the 7lb from the boys in this race will be huge, as will her pace as she is clearly the one who possesses the best cruising speed. I don't think you can touch the older horses like Champ, Paisley Park or Dashel Drasher with a barge pole. There recent form stinks, they beat a 142 rated horse by 1.75 & 2L at Newbury in a Grade 2, that horse isn't on the same level as West Balboa. The young horse Blueking D'Oroux is an interesting runner from Paul Nicholls as he does look like a proper stayer, but the race he won at Ascot doesn't look strong either, and was probably flattered to win a race of that nature.
Haydock Park - 12:55 pm
10/3 @ William Hill
Haydock Park - 1:30 pm
13/2 @ Bet365
Haydock Park - 2:40 pm
9/1 @ Bet365
Ascot - 2:25 pm