In the Betbright App Open Hunters’ Chase (4.05) at Doncaster on Wednesday, last year’s Foxhunter Chase third Paint The Clouds has an absence of 271 days to overcome but, having won the same race last year after a similar break, is hard to oppose. Warren Greatrex’s 11-year-old was subsequently a beaten favourite in the Bet365 Gold Cup Chase at Sandown and the Champion Hunters’ Chase at Stratford, but should find this a completely different ball game. In fact, he has 11lb and upwards in hand of his rivals, according to official ratings, so this should be the proverbial “shoo in” if he’s anywhere near his best.
In the opening race (2.30) at Doncaster, Divine Spear sets a similarly high standard. Nicky Henderson’s 5-year-old was beaten by Baoulet Delaroque on his hurdling debut over 2 miles 3½ furlongs on Town Moor last month but, with the winner completing a hat-trick in progressively higher grades, he looks well treated, despite a 6lb penalty for winning at Ludlow three weeks ago. Dropped back to today’s minimum trip, the Oscar gelding comfortably drew clear to win by 5 lengths on that occasion and can win again on the way to better things. Of course, there’s always the possibility of something lurking among his largely unexposed rivals but, even so, it will take a smart performance to lower his colours.
Selections: Doncaster 4.05 Paint The Clouds, Doncaster 2.30 Divine Spear, 1-point Win Double
In the 4.40 at Wetherby on Friday, the step up to 2 miles 5 furlongs and beyond appears to have been the making of Navanman and David Pipe’s 7-year-old can complete a quick-fire hat-trick. A maiden after six starts, the Well Chosen gelding was a ready winner over 2 miles 5 furlongs at Towcester eight days ago and once again won very easily under a 7lb penalty over 2 miles 7½ furlongs at Fakenham four days later. A further 7lb penalty is offset by Michael Heard’s 7lb claim and, despite 12st 7lb, Navanman is clearly improving at a rate of knots and hard to oppose.
In the 3.35, bumper winner Lake View Lad parted company with jockey Stephen Mulqueen on his first two starts over hurdles, but made amends at Ayr last month, when quickening clear on the run-in to win by 5 lengths. The son of high-class jumps sire Oscar carries a 7lb penalty for that victory, but is due to go up 9lb in the ratings, so looks one to follow in novice hurdles.
Selections: Wetherby 4.40 Navanman, Wetherby 3.35 Lake View Lad, 1-point Win Double
In the Phoenix Security Novices’ Handicap Chase (1.30) at Newcastle, Mysteree proved no match for Askamore Darsi and Lovely Job at Doncaster last month, when his jumping rather went to pieces in the closing stages but, with the winner following up in a better race, off a 5lb higher mark, at Sedgefield on Saturday, he may be able to concede weight to three chasing debutantes. It’s worth noting that Golans Choice and The Orange Rogue both won in the point-to-point sphere, but Mysteree can put his experience of regulation fences to good use.
In the Homecare Plus Novices’ Chase (2.35), Pain Au Chocolat won a couple of times over hurdles for Alan King last season and got off the mark over fences for new trainer Dan Skelton at the second time of asking at Haydock in December. His 1¼-length defeat of the 137-rated Aso on that occasion was a smart effort and, with 15lb and upwards in hand of his rivals according to official ratings, he cannot be opposed.
Selections: Newcastle 1.30 Mysteree, Newcastle 2.35 Pain Au Chocolat, 1-point Win Double