IN SUMMARY: Thunder Sheik bagged a good prize at Haydock on Saturday and is 3lb ahead of the handicapper under a penalty here, but today’s slower ground might scupper his chances of a quick double and preference is for GALA BALL (9/4). The Philip Hobbs-trained 6yo completed a hat-trick with a convincing C&D success on his handicap debut four weeks ago and is fancied to shrug off a 10lb rise. Close Touch and Montbazon are both well handicapped on old form but we haven’t seen much of either in recent years and it remains to be seen whether they still have what it takes at this level.
1 Gala Ball – Won two Wincanton novice hurdles in January/February and completed his hat-trick over C&D (soft) on last month’s handicap debut; hit with 10lb rise for latest success but is evidently making excellent progress and needs to be taken very seriously.
2 Close Touch – Looked an exciting prospect when easy winner of EBF Final at Sandown (2m4f, heavy) on handicap debut in March 2013 but been very lightly raced since then and was out of form over fences in early 2015; reverts to hurdles after one-year absence and it’s hard to gauge how much ability remains.
3 Montbazon – Well handicapped on old form and was probably unsuited by heavy ground when returning from long absence in Betfair Hurdle here in February; unseated rider in early stages of County Hurdle at Cheltenham last month and today’s run should tell us more about his current ability.
4 Mollasses – 1-3 in maiden/novice hurdles in early 2015, the win coming at Plumpton (2m, good to soft) on penultimate appearance; open to improvement in handicaps but opening mark of 132 asks quite a lot of him, and he’s been off since finishing third in run-of-the-mill Flat contest in September.
5 Thunder Sheik – Returned from absence with win at Kempton (2m, good) in November and bounced back from two lesser efforts to land valuable prize in refitted cheekpieces at Haydock (2m, good) on Saturday; 3lb well in under 7lb penalty today, but the slower ground is a concern.
6 Mr Fitzroy – Produced new career-best performance when ready winner at Kempton (2m, soft) in January; subsequent heavy defeat from out of the weights in Grade 3 event at Ascot shouldn’t be viewed too harshly, but he needs to make further progress to overcome current mark; cheekpieces refitted today.
7 Leviathan – Placed off 8lb higher mark on seasonal debut at Ascot (2m, soft) in November, and is impossible to rule out for that reason; however, he has a very patchy record since recording latest win in November 2014 and began this year with two moderate runs in January.
my racing Forecast Prices: 9/4 Gala Ball, 3/1 Thunder Sheik, 5/1 Montbazon, 6/1 Close Touch, 8/1 Mollasses, 10/1 Leviathan, 12/1 Mr Fitzroy