Find favour with Forest

Steve Hughes is having plenty of tries at Ayr’s Scottish National card on Saturday

A cracking card at Ayr with the highlight of course the Scottish National, but there are plenty of fine supporting races, so I have plenty of ammunition to go with this afternoon.

Ayr 1.25: Forest Bihan & Magic Saint

I am hoping the decision of trainer Brian Ellison to withdraw Forest Bihan at the eleventh hour at Aintree last week due to heavy rain, reaps immediate dividends as this looks a very viable alternative for the 8yo especially with the good ground certain to remain today.

A wind op in the summer looks to have had a positive effect, even though he has yet to win this season. A solid third in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham showed promise in November. However I believe he will be seen to best effect in big field handicaps like this. He cruised to the front at Doncaster on fast ground in January, but was in front too soon and was caught close home. Hopefully Danny Cook can be a little more patient and find a bit more cover here. He ran a fine race at the Festival to be fourth in the Grand Annual and he ought to be seen to even greater effect off the same mark with quicker going and a flatter track to aid his proven pace.

An insurance bet on Magic Saint looks wise. This horse has been apparently inconsistent in his career, but all his best performances have come at around 2m and on better ground. He has had only one chance in Britain under such conditions when winning cosily at Wincanton in February. A well beaten favourite at Cheltenham last time, the stiff track and softer going probably conspired against him. He could still be well handicapped on this sharper course.

Ayr 1.55: Molly the Dolly

Trainer Dan Skelton is in a rich vein of form at present as he nears a fantastic 200 winners in the season. In Molly the Dolly he has the chance of another big Ayr prize.

This mare has not been seen since finishing third at Newbury in a listed race behind Grand National runner-up Magic of Light. However her record fresh is excellent having won first time out for the past two seasons.

She has taken well to chasing this season and seems most at home on good ground having won at both Aintree and Uttoxeter on good going in the autumn. A strong traveller, a likely strong pace around this sharp track is sure to play to her strengths and a three month absence should mean she is fresh and well for this challenge.

Ayr 2.25 Verdana Blue & Nube Negra

Another high class renewal of the Scottish Champion Hurdle and I have two suggestions.

Verdana Blue has had a brilliant season, highlighted by a Grade 1 win over Buveur D’Air at Kempton. She is all about speed and almost won a listed race on the flat at Kempton. Although she flopped in this race last season, this fast track should be ideal and she ran a fine race to be fifth in the Champion itself at Cheltenham when the ground went against her on the day. 7Lb claimer Connor Brace gets the chance to show what a good jockey he should be in years to come, thus reducing the burden of the mare.

Nube Negra has long looked a candidate to win a big handicap and today could be the day. He has had a light campaign until now, racing just the three times. A fair eighth in the Greatwood at Cheltenham (not sure the finishing hill suits him), he was then brought down when holding every chance in a class 2 at Taunton. I thought he was given too much to do when coming from well off the pace at Newbury last time, but that would have put him spot on for today.

Ayr 3.35: Crosshue Boy, Impulsive Star, Geronimo

The defection of top weight Beware the Bear means a compressed handicap with only two horses carrying more than 11-0. It looks tricky so am throwing three darts.

Crosshue Boy has been campaigned with this race in mind since failing to handle the Aintree fences in December. However this race is an obvious alternative as he won the 3m novice handicap on this card last season. He has not tried 3m very often but has a good record at the trip and on this fast ground that he enjoys, has every chance of staying the fourth mile. There was plenty to like about his prep run at Wexford last week over hurdles over a trip too short.

Impulsive Star was well beaten in the 4m novice at Cheltenham, but met trouble in running on a couple of occasions and I don’t think the soft ground, nor the track suited him anyway. Instead he is better judge on his win in the Classic Chase at Warwick on similar ground and proving his stamina for 3m5f. He winged around that flat, left-handed track and handled the big field well. He could still be well in off just a 6lb higher mark and with only 10-2 to carry.

Each-way punters might be best served by Geronimo. Lightly raced he bids to give Scottish trainer Sandy Thomson a winner in his country’s most prestigious race. He has surely been laid out for this as he has been carefully campaigned this season. He won over 3m3f here despite idling in front. This lazy type does hold something back for himself, but that means he is a perfect type for this marathon trip and he remains lowly rated. He seems to handle good ground well.

Recommended bets:

0.75pts each-way – Forest Bihan – 1.25 Ayr – 9/1 general

1pt win – Magic Saint – 1.25 Ayr – 6/1 general

1pt win – Molly the Dolly – 1.55 Ayr – 5/1 general

0.75pts each-way – Verdana Blue – 2.25 Ayr – 6/1 Paddy Power, BetVictor (1/5 odds first 4)

0.75pts each-way – Nube Negra – 2.25 Ayr – 13/2 Paddy Power, BetVictor, Boylesports (1/5 odds first 4)

1pt win – Crosshue Boy – 3.35 Ayr – 9/1 general

1pt win – Impulsive Star – 3.35 Ayr – 16/1 general

0.5pts each-way – Geronimo – 3.35 Ayr – 14/1 general (most bookies 1/5 odds first 6)

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