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Mark Your Card: your best bets for the weekend's racing

Declan Smyth previews this afternoon’s big race, the Grade 2 Leamington Hurdle at Warwick.

Reproduced with permission from WhiteFlagIsRaised.com

I’VE WRITTEN HERE before about the difficulty of analysing maiden hurdles won by big distances, trying to anticipate what improvement the winner can make and compare the form of different races.

The Grade 2 Leamington Hurdle at Warwick tomorrow (15:05) poses such a conundrum.

From the initial list of entries, we are left with eight runners declared to go to post on going that is anticipated to be good to soft, soft in places, which could be the key to the outcome.

Ambion Wood heads the list of runners. Winner of his bumper at the second attempt last March, he reappeared in a maiden hurdle in November where he was well beaten into third despite going off the odds-on favourite.

He followed up in a novice hurdle at Exeter in early December over 2m1f where, starting the 7/4 favourite, he was runner up to Moorland Sunset who was subsequently beaten out of sight by Black Thunder.

He then stepped up in trip at Chepstow over the Christmas where he was an impressive winner, receiving a rating of 129. He could take a hand in the finish if he continues to improve.

John Ferguson is better known as one of the brains behind the Darley operation on the flat. However, he has had some impressive national hunt winners this season in his new role as a trainer, and Cotton Mill repesents him here.

After over a year off following his flat career, he has been an impressive winner of a maiden hurdle and a novice hurdle, the latter by 22 lengths. It’s hard to know what to make of the form although the handicapper has taken the unusual step of rating him after only two runs, allocating him 139. The one negative for me is that his best form has been on good ground.

Jumps Road was reported to be a weak horse last season by his trainer Colin Tizzard and didn’t show much after finishing second in his first run, in a bumper, a year ago.

After two subsequent runs down the field, he fell on his seasonal reappearance at Chepstow before winning over two miles on heavy ground at Ffos Las in December and is believed to have strengthened up. He may represent each-way value.

However, the one I like is Emma Lavelle’s Highland Lodge. Winner of his only point-to-point start in Ireland last March, he reappeared at Exeter in November where he was the 10-length winner of a novice hurdle over 2m6f on good to soft ground. He then had an equally impressive win over 2m4f on heavy ground at Haydock in December, and his trainer is quoted as saying that this horse could be anything.

Given that he stays and goes on the ground while Cotton Mill’s form is all on good ground, I make HIGHLAND LODGE the choice.

For regular racing updates, follow @whiteflagman on Twitter.

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Declan Smyth

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