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Preview 15 March 2008

3.30 Uttoxeter The John Smith Midlands National - 4M 1F 110yards Lst Handicap Chase

18 runners Good/Good to soft

1. Opera Mundi - Looked a smart novice when first taking to fences and was quite well fancied at last years festival for the Racing post plate in which he unseated Ruby Walsh in. Lightly raced he returned to progress to win of a mark of 142 in the mud at Haydock and even though last time he wasn't going under a 8lbs hike in the weights he comes into this having achieved a level of form that could take this if benefiting from the step up in trip to a marathon distance. Victory here could see him as a future Grand National horse as he has got the ability to run at graded level. Others in the race have more in favour in terms of things in favour, but while he is still unexposed over trips such as this and with the recent form victory to suggest a decent run at this level which is more a very good handicap then a listed class race. The ground drying out is somewhat of a concern but while still a fresh horse it is possible he will handle it. 

My Rating - 149

2. Naunton Brook - A free going sort that loves to make the running and even though he often gets headed at this level in a big field he is nothing but game and could once again respond to pressure. He has had quite a long season and his edge may just be taken of him, but you know what you are likely to get from this gallant horse and that is some sort of run if things are right for him. While being quite exposed 24 chase races he does have form at the top level in these staying races and his recent efforts in the Welsh Grand National and Warwick's premier staying race gives him claims. The concern today does lie with the size of the field and the likely hood of him being challenged up front and the course as he prefers a tighter or more quirky course to run round. High in the weights he is capable at this level and hopefully he will soon be rewarded with one of these races if not today.

My Rating - 150

3. Crystal D'Ainny - Once a top class-staying hurdler his days over the quicker flights are now over as age has caught up with him and is likely to be kept to fences these days. Yet to prove that trips over 3M suit as his two efforts so far over the longer trip haven't paid off for him, but he has the ability if ever reproducing his hurdle runs against the likes of Baracouda and Iris Gift. Another horse that you know what to expect from he may struggle to win of this mark these days after picking up a penalty for his win at Exeter which was a little fortunate with Dream Alliance parting company in the home straight when going great guns. The improved conditions will help him and he certainly is a galloper his ability around this level has him in with a decent chance, but stamina issues just raise enough question marks over him.

My Rating - 148

4. Sound Witness - The first runner in this race today from the Emerald Island as the Irish look to continue their good recent record in this handicap prize. Yesterday at Cheltenham was a good day for the Irish as the ground seemed to suit runners who enjoyed the tacky ground and the drying conditions here may just go against these runners here. Sound Witness has to prove that the extra trip on this better surface will suit as his form is mainly over the short trips in bog like conditions and with a sole start over 3M not proving much for the horse, he has things to prove today. Form wise his run behind Newbay Prop hasn't really stood up yet and from this mark he may not find enough improvement for the condition changes as connections hope for the 10yo and others are more fancied.

My Rating - 142

5. Flintoff - Comes here of the back of a brilliant run behind Welsh National winner Miko De Beauchene who is a inform rival at the top of his game at present and these staying races could be the making of this quirky but talented horse named after one of our rare cricket stars. That piece of form is most probably one of the best pieces of form coming into this race and even though conditions may not be totally ideal for the horse underfoot (prefers testing ground) he has shown some form on a sounder surface to give him claims as he is still a lightly raced horse having a light campaign. This could well be his race today with potentially more improvement to come. Better suited by a stiffer finishing track he shouldn't mind this more galloping track and should be staying on all the time over this trip as he is worked into the race under O'Neil.

My rating - 151

6. Royal Emperor - Once a very decent chaser when finishing in front of Our Vic in the royal Sun Alliance chase around 4yrs ago and had since lost his way for Sue Smith who teams up with Gold Cup winning jockey Sam Thomas and both trainer and jockey should be sky high this week after first festival winners. Needs to bounce back to some sort of form having showed very little at Newbury last time and the best form he has recently being over hurdles where he ran creditable for quite some way before tailing off. Better ground isn't ideal but he has acted on it in the past but being quite exposed now it may be a surprise to see him benefit for it with ground being hock deep being his preference. Galloping track will suit and it isn't a stiff jumping track which should help him, but he is exposed and badly out of form and only the most faithful of punters would continue to side with him at present.

My rating - 119

7. Arnold Layne - A unexposed chaser who made amends for his early departure at Warwick with a eye catching win last time at the same course on better ground. That was in a much smaller race then this and he will need to step up again on that performance to win this, however he is still fairly unexposed as a chaser and at 9 he hasn't been overly used for connections. Clearly going the right way he may make the step up to this class in easy fashion and with the ability to stay and jump and a 7lbs penalty meaning very little at present as we don't know enough about the horse he should give his supporters a run for their money on drying conditions. Was to early to say where he would have finished at Warwick in a grade 3 chases. This isn't a strong galloping track and his ability on a sharp course should mean he will handle to around here to his best of his ability and a big show is expected.

My rating - 152

8. Badgerlaw - Maybe the best hope for the Irish in this staying handicap is Jess Harrington Badger law who is another staying type that is lightly raced for an 8yo. A novice this season he was not in the class as the Mare Pomme Tiepy at Navan last time but run with much credit. The form hasn't really much aspect to it as the winner over pitched in the royal sun alliance chase this week and lost her chance there. Placed in a grade 2 novice event in Ireland isn't always the best form when tackling handicaps in the UK at this level as the Irish novice chasers have struggled in the novice chase events for some time now against the Uk based novices. A lot will depend on the stamina of the horse as he is unproved over these sorts of trips but the better ground wont be a problem having shown a nice action on this type of ground. The Irish do well in this race and he could well go close if staying in what should be a strongly tested race.

My rating - 147

9. Irish Raptor - The second runner in this handicap for Nigel Twiston-Davies who is enjoying a very good season at present. A strapping big horse he looks to tower above the fences and these quite easy jumping fences should be like stepping stones for the horse that looked so impressive when winning at Cheltenham earlier in the season. The handicap may still have given him some chance with the Sandown run under a hike working out very well and even though well beaten last time at Haydock he isn't readily discounted just yet. No surprise to see Paddy on top, but I wouldn't read to much into that as David England often helps Naunton Brook out with his claim. Has ability at this level to run a big race, but he may have wanted more give in the ground having never shown up to well on going as quick as this as he does on soft going. The Trip may also be a concern as his stamina isn't certain to with stand the trip and there may be better days for him as the runs at Cheltenham and Sandown were two very good runs. Often goes of boil this time of year.

My rating - 145

10. Dante Hall - the JP Mcmanus owned Irish Trained Dante Hall is the ride for AP Mccoy in this race who had a hard luck time at Cheltenham this week in which he put everything into it but at times looked like he was short of fitness. Never one to shy away from a chance of riding a winner he has most probably come on for the runs like a champion racehorse and today's marathon trip his mount shouldn't be discounted on the basis of him riding it. Come here in good form having won two of his last 3 chase races Dante Hall has to prove that he stays these trips having pulled up on only start over 3M and with out any better ground runs in the book he is a little of a unknown quantity in the make up the race. The wins he has recorded are fairly decent performances as he looks to give it his best at this class and with big fields suiting his style of running he could well go well on a galloping track that will suit his style of running as well. Fairly unexposed he could progress further then the UK assessment of his ability and if staying and acting on the ground may well surprise.

My Rating - 144

11. The Dark Lord - Has been in cracking form of late winning back-to-back handicaps against fair yardsticks in the shape of the quirky Yann's and the handicapped Thistlecraft. 5lbs penalty for the latest win may tie him up for this handicap against much stouter stayers but he could well still benefit for the marathon distance at the age of 11 having previously ran so well behind Victory Gunner at market Rasen over 29F in the mud. The better ground doesn't seem too much of a problem for this horse that has form in races at this level to make him look up to the task. The more unexposed rivals in the race have him to shot at it would seem as younger more fresh horses and he has been quite campaigned heavily this season which is a minor concern. Elsworth rides him well and must be pleased with the week he has had.

My Rating - 147

12. Blue Splash - Non-runner

13. Vedelle - the other choice that Mccoy could have made was the Jonjo O'Neil horse Vedelle who is very lightly raced for a 9yo and ran a cracking race at Carlisle when beating Sharp belline in the mud under today's pilot. Needs to shape better then last time where he was never jumping and maybe Richard Mcgrath compliments this horse well. Unknown on the ground and needing to prove better then his only other try over 3M, he isn't totally out of this with the weight he has on his back and possible improvement to come to make it at this level. The ground may well be the making of the horse even though heavy going has seen him at his best in the past. He is still quite a fresh horse and could handle this going just as well as suggested on his breeding. Worth a try to gain the possible improvement to win of this mark as a spring horse. Richard Mcgrath could be the key to the horse.

My Rating - 152

14. La Briar Soul - Winner at Chepstow back on Welsh National Day when breaking the heart of long time leader Mark the Book in horrid glue like conditions at Wales premier track. Poor effort last time at Huntingdon on Heavy ground and the better conditions may improve the horse for this marathon trip for the first time. The track shouldn't be too much of a problem as it is one of the fairness staying tracks in the country when not weighed down with heavy ground. The low weight should help and if he does improve could take a say in the race, as the Chepstow run wasn't to bad base against others current form. Needs to prove better then last time though and has to handle the bumping of a big field.

My Rating - 139

15. L'Aventure - A regular fixture in these races is the mare from Paul Nichols yard who has a fair amount of miles on the clock in her career and even though not as good as old she does always run her race despite often getting detached in the race at the back, how she finished 3rd last time was quite amazing and would be no surprise of this feather weight to see her staying on well again late to snatch a place. Paired with a 7lbs claimer it will give her no weight on her back if he can do the weight and hours in the steam room may just pair of for the young lad. Best with give in the ground she is likely to get very outpaced on this ground and her best hope is that the leaders cut there throats and she can come through to beat beaten horses to take this in my view. She has little in favour even though once a top class horse who is well handicapped.

My Rating - 138

16. Model Sun - Change of yard may have this once smart horse backing winning races as he proved when 3rd at Cheltenham to Vodka Bleu he does have form to win races at this level. Whether he can return to form is to be seen as the fall against Regal heights may have left it marks with a poor jumping performance at Cheltenham last time where he often jumps soundly. Fully exposed at the bottom of the weights in the listed handicap would deem him well handicapped and the ground should be in his favour to run a big race. Improvers are likely to take it to him but if at his best he has a very decent chance of winning this race. Ground is a big bonus for the horse while a galloping trip such as this isn't totally against him. Needs to prove his well being is the biggest concern.

My Rating - 149

17. Himalayan Trail - Sue Smith will be looking to follow up a good week with this unexposed chaser following up his good win last time in a much low class race then this. Paired with a claimer to help keep the weight off he should love the conditions of the track today and could still make up to a horse at this level if improving for the extra trip. Failed on his only try at this level he has a low weight and a unexposed nature about him for a 9yo and with the yard in good form he may spring a surprise from this mark. The performance and impression he gave last time suggested that he is ready to take his chance at this level and he is a very interesting inclusion in this handicap as he is very much a spring horse.

My rating - 151

18. Mcevoy - Readily outstayed rivals last time over 3M but the 2nd Stan has to be a bit of a fly in ointment as he rarely sees out a trip and got close enough to suggest it wasn't the strongest staying race. However the way the horse won was quite impressive as he cruised up and went clear in a matter of strides, obviously this is likely to be a much tougher race but the low weight over 4M should help him to bridge the gap against the more classy horses in the race and the further he went the better he seemed last time. Handles good ground and more improvement to come over these trips give us the suggestion that he may be good enough to go well 2lbs wrong at the weight and even though a poor effort on his only start at this level he has improved since then and could well run a big race.

My rating - 150

Tissue price - Arnold Layne 11/2, Vedelle 6/1, Flintoff, Himalayan Trail 8/1, Naunton Brook, Mcevoy 9/1, Opera Mundi 10/1, Model Sun, Crystal D'Ainny, Badgerlaw 12/1, The Dark Lord, Irish Raptor, Dante Hall 16/1, Sound Witness, La Brier Soueil 20/1, L'aventure 25/1, Royal Emperor 66/1.

Verdict  Open looking staying race in which it is hard to get away from the chances of the improving Arnold Layne who has the ability to land a prize such as this. Tony McCoy may well have picked the wrong horse of the two he had a choice to ride and 33-1 looks too big a price about the chances of Vedelle whose bad effort last time can be put to bed in the make up of this race with the return of Richard Mcgrath. Badgerlaw the choice of Pricewise is firming up all the time, The Irish have a good record in this handicap and this is the most likliest winner of the trio of runner they have in this handicap. Both Sue Smith and Paul Nichols are double handed and it be no surprise to see either of there runners win with the claimers riding the lower weighted runners even though Nichols best chance may be the classy top weight today. Himalayan Trail at 16-1 looks quite big as well but for the selections we return to the first two on our tissue.

Selection  Arnold Layne 2pts win @ 15/2 (BF7.4) & Vedelle 1pt win @ 33-1 (BF74's)

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