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

“It’s Trials Day, Trials Day, gotta get down on…” Ah, forget it. Check out Declan Smyth’s tips here.

Image: David Davies/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Reproduced with permission from WhiteFlagIsRaised.com

WITH JUST OVER six weeks to Cheltenham, that racecourse holds its Trials Day today with four Grade 2 races to whet our appetite for the festival. We’ve been on a bit of a bad run of late and while nothing is certain in racing, the luck usually turns.

The advance going is reported as good to soft. However with frost forecast overnight, the course was covered as a precaution and hopefully it will be all systems go.

Our first race is the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial at 12:55 over 2m1f. Baby Mix won over course and distance in December, beating the highly-regarded Hinterland by seven lengths. The ground was against the latter that day though, and having won three of his previous five starts in France, he is an interesting runner.

Hollow Tree made most of the running and battled on in tremendous style in the Grade 1 hurdle at Chepstow at Christmas. His only defeat over hurdles has come at the hands of Hinterland who beat him by three lengths into second at Cheltenham back in November.

Pearl Swan represents Paul Nicholls. A winner on his first start for the stable, he failed to win in five starts prior to that in France and is hard to judge.

Grumeti was an easy winner of his first hurdle race before tipping up at the second last with the race at his mercy at Newbury 10 days ago. His trainer is anxious to get another run in before March, but this might come a bit soon.

Provided his exertions at Chepstow haven’t taken their toll, I think HOLLOW TREE might win.

***

The Argento Chase over 3m1f (14:35) will be a test of stamina. Diamond Harry has been declared but he is a fragile horse. While he has to be respected on his best form, it’s hard to be confident in him.

Captain Chris hung on to be third behind Kauto Star in the King George, but I’m not convinced that he stayed and today will be a big test of his stamina.

Midnight Chase is an interesting challenger. He ran up a sequence in handicaps last year before finishing down the field in the Gold Cup.

He’s only had two starts this season, falling in the JW Wine at Down Royal and then beaten by 16 lengths in the Roland Meryck at Wetherby, where he had to give 29lbs to the winner, According To Peter, who won again on Saturday.

He has been aimed at this race and might be a bit of each way value.

However, I’m going to take a chance with TIME FOR RUPERT to come back to form. He’ll relish the trip and course and there are good vibes coming out from the stable. He was given a confidence-boosting win in a little chase last time and he may be good enough here.

***

The Grade 2 Novice Hurdle is due off at 15:10. BROADBACKBOB is likely to start favourite off the back of two wins on his only starts this season. Trainer Nicky Henderson thinks a lot of this fellow.

Alan King runs Batonnier and Secret Edge, but it may not be soft enough for either. Secret Edge will an allowance as a four-year-old and is also in receipt of 12lbs from Broadbackbob. Still, Henderson’s horse should be good enough.

***

The Cleeve Hurdle is due off at 15.40 and it looks like a benefit for BIG BUCK’S. Five opponents face him this afternoon including Mourad, Restless Harry and Dynaste and, while he will probably get beaten one day, I don’t think it will be today.

**

Up at Doncaster, proceedings get underway with the Grade 2 Mares Hurdle at 13.15. Alasi has been chasing with success recently and returns to hurdling here looking for some black type. She is also dropping down in trip.

Silver Gypsy and Dorabelle run for Donald McCain and should show up, but preference is for LIFESTYLE who is off a nice mark and gets 5lbs from Alasi.

***

The Grade 2 Lightning Novice Chase over 2m110yds goes to post at 13:50 and while only three are declared, it has the makings of a great race.

Kumbeshwar stole a lead on Menorah two weeks ago at Kempton, but the latter ran out a comfortable winner in the end. Both horses made mistakes in running and Kumbeshwar is now 6lbs better off than his rival after he was beaten that day by almost four lengths.

Kid Cassidy fell on his chasing debut when well clear at the third last. He was then a facile winner at Ludlow last week. He pulls hard and AP McCoy will probably let him bowl along, which might suit Menorah and Kumbeshwar.

All three have made and probably will make mistakes, but KID CASSIDY is a really exciting horse. If he puts in a clear round, I think that he can beat Menorah.

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Our last race of interest at Doncaster is the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle over 3m110yds. It goes to post at 15:25 and although only six are declared, it is a really tricky affair.

There is little between Gullinbursti and Lovcen. Both have had a short break since their last runs at the end of November where Lovcen was very impressive, winning by 17 lengths over 2m5f. According to his trainer, he’s been crying out for this trip. Gullinbursti has won three of his five starts and is a tough sort.

ROCKY CREEK won his point-to-point in Ireland before finishing as runner-up on his debut over hurdles at Exeter at the beginning of November. I think he might have enough improvement in him to win here.

***

Over at Leopardstown, the Grade 2 Novice Chase is due off at 14:15 with five runners declared.

Sir Des Champs was considered by many to be a lucky winner on St Stephens Day in Limerick when Knockfierna ran out at the last while in contention; the latter subsequently won at Thurles to frank the form.

Donnas Palm doesn’t look to me as if he’s quite up to this class and was beaten by four lengths behind Arklow Ger in a handicap at Christmas.

Fists of Fury was well-beaten at Cheltenham back in December and is held on hurdling form with Hidden Cyclone, who impressed everyone with his chasing debut victory here at Christmas.

There might not be a lot between Sir Des Champs and HIDDEN CYCLONE, but the latter had the class over hurdles and I think he’ll show it here this afternoon.

For regular racing updates, follow @whiteflagman on Twitter.

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Declan Smyth

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