JUMPS racing is off and running across the country now and we're starting to get a better idea of the form of some horses and trainers. Today there is great stuff at Wincanton and Aintree and I also have one final bet on the flat racing at Doncaster.
At this time of year the biggest question when it comes to national hunt horses is whether they are primed and ready to go for their first run of the season. Plenty of value can be gained when you find one that doesn't need a run and can run to form first time out but it's tricky to work that out.
You need to consider the horse's history and the trainer's record amongst other things and it isn't easy to get it right. GARDEFORT falls into that category today. He was excellent running into 2nd place behind one of my Cheltenham winners Rock The World bad in March and this is his first run since. Venetia Williams had a winner on Thursday and two second places and those suggest that she is starting to ramp things up.
She has been using Bryan Cooper quite a bit for her horses and I think that could be a tremendous partnership this season. Cooper is a very good jockey who was unlucky to lose his retained status with Gigginstown in Ireland (largely due to persistent injury problems) and I think his foray into the UK this season will prove fruitful particularly if he can team up with trainers like Venetia.
Hopefully Gardefort is primed for a big run first time out today. He won first time out in 2014 which is encouraging despite the fact that he unseated Charlie Deutsch on his comeback run last year. I think the horse is overpriced at the current odds of 9-1 given his clear ability and I expect him to go very close.
The November Handicap signals the end of the flat turf season in Britain and it presents one last chance for trainers and owners to land a nice big handicap pot. SAUNTER is the one that I like here for Ian Williams who is very good at placing his horses and training them with a target in mind.
This is only Saunter's second run for Williams and there is no doubt that this race will have been the target. He has decent form on soft and heavy ground so that isn't a concern at all and I expect him to go close in a huge field.
The Badger Ales Trophy is always a fascinating race with a few big names coming back to the track. This race revolves around two Paul Nicholls-trained horses for me in the shape of Southfield Theatre and MR MIX. Southfield Theatre hasn't been seen since December of last year and apparently is notoriously difficult to train according to Nicholls.
If there is one man that can train them for the big day it's him but I think there are too many questions over the horse's wellbeing for me to get involved. The selection is MR MIX who has already had two runs in October including a win. This will be only his 5th run over fences and I think he has lots of improvement in him, especially on today's soft ground. He won here over hurdles last year on soft ground and I expect him to go really well for Harry Cobden at a nice each way price.