This looks to be a battle of the improvers at the top of the market as nine go to post for the penultimate race of the day at Southwell on Friday. See our betting tips and the full race preview below.
IN SUMMARY: Start Seven continued to impress when winning here last Monday, though is going to have to improve markedly for the step up in trip to shoulder an 11lb rise and beat FERN OWL. Hughie Morrison’s five year old made a mockery of Katie Gale over C&D on his latest start when winning by eight lengths despite being heavily eased. He also has to shoulder a rise in the weights, but on that evidence a 9lb rise shouldn’t be enough to stop him from going back to back with Robert Winston taking the ride.
1 START SEVEN – Massive improver since joining Jamie Osbourne, running out a comprehensive winner of all three of his starts for the trainer. Raised another 11lb after sauntering clear over the 1m 6f trip here last Monday and even that rise may not be enough to stop him, especially if given a soft lead from stall 2. This is slightly tougher than what he faced last time out but he looks certainly to stay the trip and has scope for further progress, so has to be respected.
2 FERN OWL – Had been in okay form before springing back to life with a C&D success in December, winning by an eased down eight lengths after powering clear up the home straight. Raised 9lb for that success which makes things tougher but he left the impression that much more could be expected with the ease of his latest victory. He still has scope for further progress with Robert Winston taking the ride and if in the same form again he should have no problem dismissing the rise and going back to back for Hughie Morrison.
3 AN FEARU CIUIN – Has good form posted including a win here back in April and two on the turf since then in the summer. He has however struggled the last twice in claiming grade races at both Catterick and here at Southwell on New Year’s Day, failing to land a blow on either occasions. Things don’t get any easier back into Class 4 company and is still 4lb above his last winning mark. Others make far more appeal today.
4 VIRNON – Was an easy winner here at the 1m 4f trip back in January 2016 but has failed to impress since then on two flat runs since, going chasing the last thrice with limited success. Returns to the all weather still 6lb above his last winning mark, though he may well be better suited up to the two mile trip here. Needs to show improvement if he’s to figure but definite place claims at his best for Alan Swinbank and Joe Fanning.
5 KATIE GALE – Completely outclassed by Fern Owl on her latest start over C&D in December, losing out by ten eight lengths, though it would have been much more had that rival not have eased down towards the finish. Has an 11lb pull with that rival but she has less room for improvement and her last win came in July 2015 on the flat. She did however win this race back in 2015, though is now 12lb above that mark and looks unlikely to repeat that feat today. Place claims at best for Charlie Appleby though looks unlikely to trouble the front two in the market.
6 LA ESTRELLA – 14 year old for Don Cantillon who has shown age is no barrier, winning over C&D when last seen in December 2015 and is 2lb higher on return. This is tougher however on return from such a long absence and he’d be more than entitled to need this run, especially at his age. Likely best watched today and hard to fancy with the 409 day lay off like a flashing red light, though he wouldn’t be amiss in the places with others having uncertainty about them.
7 AMBER FLUSH – Solidly out of form since the summer of 2016 and has struggled to beat a rival for seven runs, tailed off at Wolverhampton on his latest start in January (1m 5f, Std). One win from thirty two starts under rules and impossible to recommend.
8 WITH HINDSIGHT – Five time winner on the all weather, with his latest win coming back in December 2015 at Wolverhampton (1m 6f, Std) off a mark of 67. Back down to that mark for today’s run, though he was soundly beaten on return on reappearance this season at Wolverhampton two weeks ago (1m 4f, Std). Struggled from a long way out which tempers enthusiasm, though going back up in trip may suit. Not necessarily ruled out for the places but would be a shock winner of this contest today.