This is a difficult handicap over 1m 4f, see our betting tips and the full race preview below.
IN SUMMARY: David Thompson’s HIGHWAYMAN is given another chance today with the booking of Paul Mulrennan catching the eye. He drops down into Class 6 company having not been disgraced in better races than this and he looks to be on a workable mark. He’s a fair price in this but his biggest threats look to come from Mazaaher who is a winner without a penalty and Up Ten Down Two who could progress again for a smart stable,
1 AKAVIT – Has been hurdling this winter with two poor runs over obstacles. He returns to the flat here following a 170-day break and he’s tricky to fancy off the back of those previous runs. He was last seen pulled up off this mark at Bath back in October and you have to go back to June 2015 for his last win on the flat off this mark. Hard to fancy today.
2 MAZAAHER – Arrives here off the back of a win in an Apprentice Handicap and he escapes a penalty for that success. That leaves him on an evidently workable mark of 63 and Clifford Lee retains the ride and claims a valuable 5lbs off his back and he should really go close again over an extra 2 furlongs than last time. He won and placed off marks much higher than this in the past and David Evans may have rekindled that old spark. Respected here.
3 UP TEN DOWN TWO – 3lb rise for getting up by the smallest of margins last time out over an extended 2 miles at this track. That was only his second career victory from 16 races and there should be more to come as this trainer is no stranger to horses winning successive races. The step down in trip is a little bit of a question mark but he needs a market check in this and he could be a major threat.
4 SANDGATE – 2 wins in 21 career starts and he’s been absent since last season when trained by Neil Mulholland. He makes his debut today for his new stable and it’s hard to know what to expect given he hasn’t raced on the flat since August 2015. He’s 3lbs lower than that last flat mark and he was only successful off a mark of 97 over jumps so he doesn’t make too much appeal on paper. Trainer without a victory from 15 runners here and he’s avoided in this.
5 HIGHWAYMAN – Without a win in 12 starts but hasn’t been beaten that far in a stronger maiden and handicap than this. He drops down in grade today and is on the same mark as when last beaten so he’s probably high enough in the weights. However, he is still relatively unexposed at this trip and the booking of Paul Mulrennan catches the eye. One of interest at a bigger price for a yard that have had a couple of winners here.
6 TRED SOFTLY – Raced a bit keen last time out over 2 furlongs further and the drop back in trip should suit him here. He’s been sent off favourite on his last two starts (11/8 and 11/4) and he’s on the same mark as last time out at Wolverhampton so there’s a case to be made for him in this. Trainer has had a recent winner and one that’s worth a second market look.
7 TOOLA BOOLA – Predominantly a hurdler with 15 starts over obstacles and she races on the flat for the first time since last October when beaten 55 lengths over C&D. That came off a mark of 59 and the handicapper has dropped her 5lbs in this which should help but all evidence of late suggests she’ll need a mark lower than this. Visor is applied for the first time and others make more appeal.
8 PSYCHOLOGY – Second runner in this for Kenny Johnson and he’s a maiden after 8 starts without even a placed effort to his name. He’s by Shamardal so there should be some potential in him somewhere and he was only beaten 3 1/4 lengths over an extended 2 miles last time out. Hasn’t started shorter than 33/1 to date but there could be more money for him today back down to a more suitable trip. Interesting.
9 SPOKESPERSON – Trainer without a winner in 9 attempts at Newcastle and his runner arrives here badly out of form. He won a turf handicap over today’s trip back in August but was then beaten out of sight on his next five starts off similar marks. He’s 2lbs lower today and Graham Lee is back aboard but he’s impossible to recommend on his latest form and is best watched.
10 RAJAPUR – Maiden after 11 starts and was beaten a neck when last seen in a Hexham hurdle event in June. He used to be trained by Dermot Weld but he’s obviously had some major issues and it’s tricky to know what to expect after this long layoff and he’s probably one to avoid in this for a trainer with just 1 win from 34 runners at Newcastle.
11 BILKO’S BACK – Has been beaten out of sight on virtually all his starts to date and a mark of 47 still looks on the high side. He was beaten by 10 1/2 lengths over 1m 2f here just over a week ago having been sent off 100/1 and it would be a surprise not to see another treble-figure odd next to his name today.
12 LORD ROB – Second runner in this for David Thompson and he hasn’t run too badly in his last three runs this year. He’s been thereabouts off this mark and higher and connections step him up in trip today to 1m 4f to try and get something more out of him. Andrew Mullen is a positive jockey booking and he’s not without a chance although he remains a maiden after 22 starts. Avoided.