The Timeform and Sporting Life racing experts with their best bets for this Saturday’s action.
David Johnson – PAY THE PIPER (1.30 Doncaster)
Calico made a bit of a name for himself in front of the ITV cameras three weeks ago when giving Jonbon a scare at Warwick, but there’s a good chance that flatters him somewhat and the early markets have him too short for the 1.30 at Doncaster.
Making far more appeal in that race is PAY THE PIPER who made into a useful novice chaser last winter and bounced right back to his best when winning at Musselburgh last time, beating Fedelio Vallis by 4¼ lengths with plenty of distance back to the rest.
The third and fourth have run well enough since to suggest that a 6 lb rise could underestimate him and he’s fancied to make his class tell under his big weight.
Kieran Clark – WHATSUPWITHYOU (2.10 Newbury)
Few trainers have enjoyed finer seasons than Ben Pauling and the in-form Naunton Downs handler (eight of his last 10 runners have finished first or second) can hopefully add another to his tally with WHATSUPWITHYOU in the Seniors’ Handicap Hurdle.
The son of Shantou shaped as if in top form when last seen finishing fifth at Kempton over Christmas in a competitive contest and has already slipped below the mark he was successful off at Uttoxeter last April.
That looks strong form, with both the winner and third of the Kempton event going in on their next start and, having been freshened up by a 10-week break and dropped back in grade, he looks to hold solid claims at a general 7/1.
Matt Brocklebank – HOE JOLY SMOKE (2.25 Kelso)
Dan Skelton won this race with My Drogo in 2021 and I’m inclined to think HOE JOLY SMOKE could be quite classy once his jumping becomes a little slicker.
It’s let him down a touch to this point, but he bustled up subsequent Grade 2 winner Makin’yourmindup first time out at Chepstow (2m3f) in October and the drop back to two miles caught him out there last month.
He still ran very well in third (staying on at the line) after the winner set a stop-start gallop from the off, and I reckon he’ll really kick on back up in trip this spring.
A bit of rain wouldn’t have gone amiss for Hoe Joly Smoke, but there’s enough to go on otherwise and he merits a bet at what looks a generous price.
David Ord – SANTOS BLUE (3.00 Kelso)
He looked one to keep on the right side of when winning at Chepstow last time and even from a 12 pounds higher perch, SANTOS BLUE makes plenty of appeal at Kelso.
The six-year-old went powerfully through the race when beating No No Tonic (ran well when second from a three pound higher mark herself next time) by five-and-a-half lengths that day and while this is deep and with a host of in-form rivals pitched in against him, we haven’t seen the best of the selection yet.
Ben Linfoot – BLACK POPPY (3.25 Newbury)
Kerry Lee is in great form at present and her BLACK POPPY is backed to follow up last year’s victory in Newbury’s Make Your Best Bet At BetVictor Handicap Hurdle.
This horse beat Straw Fan Jack in a thrilling finish last year after travelling well and he reinforced his liking for the track next time out when splitting Mark Of Gold and Irish Hill, where he was beaten just a nose and was coming back at the winner at the line. Mark Of Gold is now rated 139 having won three times since, while Irish Hill, beaten eight lengths by Black Poppy, has won four times since and is now rated 134.
Black Poppy is up just 2lb to 119 having tried fences and 2m4f over hurdles in just two starts since the good Newbury run, neither suiting, and both efforts came when Lee’s yard was struggling for winners.
She is firing on all cylinders now having had nine winners at 27% this year and Black Poppy rates the best bet of the weekend.
Andrew McLaren – THE SHUNTER (3.35 Kelso)
You only have to go back four runs over fences and THE SHUNTER was giving Protektorat a scare in a Grade 1 at Aintree after bolting up in a competitive Cheltenham Festival handicap off a mark of 140.
He’s presumably been campaigned with his Grand National mark in mind recently, mixing it between hurdles and inadequate tests on the Flat, but with the national weights now out the handicapper can’t touch him if he wins.
Back over the larger obstacles, trip, track and ground will suit and the 4lb he gets off Le Milos is the icing on the cake.
Phil Turner – MOTOWN MAGGIE (5.20 Navan)
Gordon Elliott has his team in fine form ahead of the Cheltenham Festival and seems sure to enjoy another profitable time of things this weekend, when MOTOWN MAGGIE appeals as one of his most likely winners.
Admittedly the six-year-old mare has drawn a blank on all three starts since making a successful debut over fences at Listowel back in September (when beating subsequent dual winner Optimal Mix), but there are grounds for thinking her last two runs are better than they look on paper.
Indeed, she looked very much at home in a class 2 handicap at Cheltenham on the first occasion before wilting late on upped in trip, whilst she wasn’t given a hard time after an early blunder when fourth in a Listed mares novice at Thurles on the back of a four-month absence last time.
She seems sure to strip fitter for that run and finds herself in much calmer waters at Navan on Saturday, so it will be very disappointing if she cannot defy a Turf Club mark of 123, particularly as she’ll also be benefitting from Ben Harvey’s valuable 5 lb claim.
Graeme North – LANDLORDTOTHESTARS (6.30 Wolverhampton)
Sparks Fly is an interesting handicap newcomer having caught the eye in no uncertain terms on her latest start, not least given the rider who rode her there, Laura Pearson, renews the partnership but she’ll have to go a bit to get the better of LANDTOTHESTARS who scored very cosily on his own handicap debut at Southwell last month.
The selection hadn’t shown much before then but looking at him – he’s massive – that’s hardly surprising and he showed the benefit of a near three-month break at Southwell where he took five lengths out of the field in the space of a furlong despite racing nearest the far rail and never looked like getting beaten.
He’s been raised 6lb for that but ought to be able to shrug that off given his size and he might well be one that runs up a sequence.
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