Steve Hughes has four selections on a wonderful Saturday of jumps racing.
The first Saturday in December is rapidly growing into one of the highlights of the first half of the jumps season. Three terrific cards include two Grade 1’s at Sandown, two races over the National fences at Aintree and a series of competitive handicaps at Chepstow. I have selections from all three fixtures. Messire Des Obeaux was a winner on Friday (advised 11/4).
Chepstow 1.05: What A Moment
I am a touch surprised not to see What A Moment as favourite for this novice chase, albeit he has to shoulder top weight. He has shown a real aptitude for chasing in two runs this autumn and put more experienced rivals to the sword at Cheltenham last time out.
Although he was a reasonable hurdler, he seemed to have reached a level he was not going to move beyond last season. However he has really stepped it up a level this term.
He jumped well and found plenty for pressure even though he had to narrowly give best at Aintree on his return. However he went like an old hand around Cheltenham off a strong pace and was value for far more than his 2l winning margin considering he idled badly up the hill. He should have no problem with the undulations of Chepstow and it is not as if he is having to give away stones to the opposition today.
Aintree 1.35: Alvarado
Paul Moloney’s completion record in the Grand National, and over the National fences in general is now legendary (although he is often placed rather than winning). In both 2014 & 2015 he placed fourth on Alvarado and the 11yo will surely have been trained for some time with this specific race in mind.
Aimed all last season with just the Grand National in mind, he had just one quiet run a month before the race to get him tuned up. However due the quality that stood their ground for Aintree he ended up getting balloted out of the race. As a consolation he headed for the Scottish version at Ayr a week later where he finished a fine second.
However Aintree in April will surely be the ultimate target again in 2017. In order to get there he will probably need to boost his handicap mark and what better way to do that than to win this trial race over the big fences. He has already a nice prep when a close sixth at Cheltenham last month without being knocked about and has only 10-2 to carry. He won’t mind the unusually dry ground either.
Chepstow 2.45: Max Forte
Still very much unexposed over hurdles, Max Forte could be the answer to a trappy staying hurdle at Chepstow on his apparently favoured good going.
There was plenty of money for him in a tough handicap at Cheltenham last month, but in the end he was beaten a long way out on ground softened up by rain the previous day. That was not the first time he has disappointed on testing conditions and he is better judged by his performances on faster going.
He made an impressive hurdles debut on good at Wincanton last autumn, beating Present Man by 8l. He then came back to form in the spring after a sticky spell when a staying on fourth over 3m at Ascot as the ground began to dry up again. Cheltenham would at least served a purpose of getting him fit and he should be sharper here.
Sandown 3.00: God’s Own
2m on a right-handed track is what brings out the best in God’s Own and he is a confident choice in a terrific renewal of the Tingle Creek, to cement the new partnership of trainer Tom George and jockey Adrian Heskin.
In two runs this season he has come there cruising two out only to fade over 2m4f and the minimum trip does look like his distance. Memories of his two Grade 1 wins at the Punchestown Festival are still vivid – both at 2m and on good going. That course is right-handed too, something he does seem better suited to. Remember he beat Vautour and Simonsig there in April and was not far behind Un De Sceaux in the Champion Chase on a track I view as less suitable for him.
Although there is huge talent amongst the opposition, holes can be picked in those rivals. Un De Sceaux seems to lack zip on good ground and might need a longer distance these days. Despite a game win last time I am not sure Sire de Grugy is quite the force of old and Ar Mad has to overcome a long absence since suffering an injury.
1pt win – What A Moment – 1.05 Chepstow – 6/1 general
1pt each-way – Alvarado – 1.35 Aintree – 10/1 general
1pt each-way – Max Forte – 2.45 Chepstow – 12/1 general
1.5pts win – Gods Own – 3.00 Sandown – 4/1 Betfred, Totesport