IN SUMMARY: Never Says Never was in excellent form when last seen in December and there’s every chance he can resume his progress if today’s longer trip suits. However, preference is for BATAVIR (7/2), who gave an excellent account when third in a good-quality contest at Chepstow last month and is sure to appreciate today’s drop in class. Auenwirbel, an eight-time winner in France, has cut little ice on his first three British starts but will be feared if attracting market support.
1 Batavir – Generally disappointing since ending 2014 with two wins but responded well to first-time blinkers and ran a big race when third in a competitive Pertemps qualifier at Chepstow (2m7f, heavy) last month; down in class today and will be a tough nut to crack if in similar form.
2 Driftashore – Former pointer who caused 20-1 surprise in C&D maiden on rules debut last April; has found things much tougher in two handicaps this season, though, and latest 4lb drop in the weights not enough to tempt.
3 Crazy Jack – Won twice last year (handicap chase/novice hurdle) and comes here after running well in defeat at Ludlow (3m, heavy) in January; ought to be fine over today’s shorter trip and current mark probably not beyond him; one to consider.
4 Number One London – Fair Flat-racer who built upon quite encouraging hurdle debut when winning Newton Abbot maiden (2m5f, good) in June; not seen since a lesser effort in September and would make more appeal on faster ground but has scope make further progress in this sphere; sometimes wears cheekpieces but not today.
5 Auenwirbel – Won seven hurdles and a chase when trained in France; unable to pose a significant threat on any of his three British starts but may yet come good for current connections and market support will bring him into the equation.
6 Lava Lamp – Been a good servant over the years and made some quite encouraging late headway when seventh at Ascot (2m5f, soft) in December, but remains 2lb above his last winning mark and took a tumble when last in action; others preferred.
7 Never Says Never – Struck form in late 2015, winning heavy-ground handicaps at Exeter (2m1f) and Lingfield (2m); fell when bidding to complete his hat-trick and is yet to convince stamina-wise over this sort of trip, but he’s still quite lightly raced and could easily have more to offer.
8 Church Hall – Came good over hurdles in C&D handicap in October 2014 (soft ground) and current 4lb higher mark looks manageable if all his old ability remains, but this will be his first outing for 456 days and he’s entitled to benefit from it.
9 Stiff Upper Lip – Well handicapped on old form and seems very versatile ground-wise but has been disappointing on all three starts since returning from a long absence this season, the latest with cheekpieces added; revival needed.
10 Rafafie – Has a course win (in 2014) to his name and made pleasing return from absence when second at Wincanton (2m, soft) in January; been raised 4lb for that but is probably worth another shot at today’s trip and can given a decent account.
myracing Forecast Prices: 3/1 Batavir, Never Says Never, 6/1 Crazy Jack, Number One London, Rafafie, 14/1 Church Hall, 16/1 Auenwirbel, Lava Lamp, Stiff Upper Lip, 33/1 Driftashore