Steve Hughes has selections for the best of Saturday’s jumps action in Britain
Not too many runners due to the ground at Wetherby, but the top races still have an open look. Jockeys Bridget Andrews and Bryony Frost have Cheltenham Festival victories to their name in recent seasons and both could get on the board in the two graded races on the card. I also have a couple of bets for Ascot’s opening jumps meeting of the season.
Wetherby 2.40: Virgilio
Unfortunately the prevailing fast ground has put paid to the likes of Clan Des Obeaux and Thistlecrack turning up here, but trainer Dan Skelton will be delighted as this offers his Virgilio the chance of a prestige win.
This horse needs a flat track and fast ground and has previously been something of an Aintree specialist. However he produced a career best effort to land the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter in July and definitely merits a go in this company given both track and going will suit.
He is actually rated 4lbs higher now than Black Corton and will have a fitness edge over the favourite and his other two opponents. He merits a bet as the outsider of four in an open contest.
Ascot 3.00: Magic Dancer
A progressive and still well handicapped horse, Magic Dancer is readily given another opportunity to make amends for his second placing at Cheltenham last week.
Whilst it might be pushing it to call him unlucky behind runaway winner Storm Rising last week, Kerry Lee’s 6yo made a mistake at a crucial time in the race and was always having to play catch up thereafter. Jockey Richard Patrick’s frustration at the end of the race was clear to see to racegoers at the track and the fact the gelding is being sent out again so soon suggests connections think they have an in-form horse on their hands.
He can race off the same mark of 128 today, which in itself looked generous for that Cheltenham race given he had only been put up 4lbs for a 6l success at the same track in April on ground similar to today. A strongly run 2m contest suits him ideally and he should get that today in this competitive field.
Wetherby 3.15: Old Guard
Although we saw him over 2m at Kempton last time, there is no doubt that Old Guard is better over further these days and he can prove that with a win in the West Yorkshire Hurdle.
The defections of two major market rivals clearly makes his task much easier but his natural speed, seen to good effect when winning the Greatwood and International Hurdles over an extended 2m at Cheltenham in the past can be utilised here.
I think it would be wise to disregard his two previous efforts at this 3m trip, both against top company on ground much too soft for his liking. However he saw out the 2m5f at Newbury strongly to win a good handicap under Bryony Frost last winter and a sharp 3m on good ground should be well within his stamina range.
Ascot 3.35: Geordie des Champs
Go Conquer has understandably all the rage for this big pot in an attempt to follow up his win in this twelve months ago for a new trainer. However this horse is all about going off strongly from the front and he could be vulnerable on his seasonal return with Kings Lad likely to hassle him for the early lead.
Instead Geordie des Champs offers a good alternative for the back in-form trainer Rebecca Curtis. This 7yo is unexposed coming out of his novice campaign. Like his trainer he had a patchy campaign last winter, but he does look well suited to good going and often had to race on much softer conditions.
His third at Sandown on the final day of the season over a trip probably short of his best and a fifth in the Summer Cup at Uttoxeter gives us a better idea of what he is capable of. A couple of seasons he won his first three hurdles races – all on decent ground and he looks fairly weighted given he should have conditions in his favour today.
1pt win – Virgilio – 2.40 Wetherby – 9/2 general
1pt each-way – Magic Dancer – 3.00 Ascot – 9/2 general
1.5pts win – Old Guard – 3.15 Wetherby – 15/8 general
1pt win – Geordie Des Champs – 3.35 Ascot – 4/1 general