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Runners and Riders

Mark your Card: your best bets for today’s Grade races

With four Graded races to look forward to this afternoon, Declan Smyth gets stuck in for a look at Saturday’s form.

DOWN ROYAL AND Wetherby both hold their meetings of the year this weekend, giving us four Grade races to get our teeth into on Saturday.

Once again though, we are faced with questions regarding horses who have been off for a long time and others who require specific types of going to show their best form. With the rains forecast, it is a tricky position to be in as we try to second guess how the going will be once the tape goes up. Chase (Grade 1)

Down Royal have attracted some great horses over the years for the three-mile Chase (2.25pm), a Grade 1 worth €84,000 to the winner.

Despite the big pot only one English runner, Kauto Stone, has been declared. Although a half brother to the recently retired Kauto Star, Paul Nicholls’ challenger doesn’t appear to have the same class.

Winner of the Grade 2 Novice Chase at this meeting last year, Kauto Stone followed that up with a second place behind Sizing Europe at Sandown in early December. His form then tailed off, in part due to a virus in the stable but also possibly because he runs best when fresh. It’s interesting to see him stepping up in trip to three miles as he won a Grade 1 chase at Auteuil over 2m 6f this time two years ago. He tends to run a bit free though, so this race could test his stamina.

Last year’s winner Quito de la Roque reappears after being off the track since December. He stayed on well that day under a determined ride from Davy Russell and benefited from Sizing Europe not seeing out the race. Russell obviously feels the horse can do himself justice as he has chosen him over First Lieutenant, who will benefit from his run behind Sizing Europe at Gowran Park in last month.

Joncol is another horse who could pose a threat. Third behind Roi Du Mee, who tailed off behind Sizing Europe in that Gowran race, he should come on for the run and might be each way value.

Noel Meade’s Realt Dubh tackles this trip for the first time since winning a point-to-point at Dromahane in March 2008. Highly consistent, he has only been out of the first three just four times in 21 starts. Again he is a horse having his first run of the season but he has won first time out before.

Sizing Europe is a class act. His effortless performance at Gowran Park last month showed that he has retained all his enthusiasm. He appeared to be travelling in a different gear to the rest of the field and ran out an easy winner. It’s hard to know if the mistake he made two from home cost him last year, but he does look in better condition this time around.

Bob Lingo, Chicago Grey and the enigmatic Follow The Plan make up the nine-runner field in what is sure to be an exciting and informative race.

With the going changed to yielding-to-soft after the first (it was good, yielding-to-soft in places), there is a chance Sizing Europe might not see it out in that ground. QUITO DE LA ROQUE, who goes well when fresh, might just about shade it. Back at the early price.

Ladbroke Chase (Grade 2)

After the main event, the Grade 2 Ladbroke Chase over 2m 4f goes off at 3pm. Paul Nicholls, who is a great supporter of this meeting, has Cristal Bonus declared here and this fellow is highly thought of. He won first time up last season and the softer it is for him, the better.

Davy Russell has chosen the high class Bog Warrior over the other Gigginstown challenger Rivage D’or. The rest of the six runner field is made up of Imperial Shabra, Mia’s Vic and Jacksonslady who appear to be there to pick up the crumbs with €2,000 on offer for the fourth-placed horse.

If BOG WARRIOR turns up in the form he showed when beating Flemenstar by seven lengths last November at Navan, it will take a very good horse to beat him. Take the early price.

John Smith Hurdle (Grade 2)

Over at Wetherby, the Grade 2 John Smith Hurdle over 3m 1f goes off at 2.50pm. Only six go to post for the £18,244 first prize, but they include last year’s winner Restless Harry and the winner of the previous two renewals Fair Along.

The former was a 20-length winner last year over Fair Along but the disappointed over fences before being put back hurdling. Fair Along is not getting any younger but is reported to be in good form by his trainer Philip Hobbs. Still, he should find one or two too good for him.

Crack Away Jack is a former smart novice who lost his way after an injury in 2009. After disappointing with Paul Nicholls last year, he moved to Tom George after Cheltenham and ran his best race for a while when runner up to Big Buck’s at Aintree. If the trainer has managed to keep him sweet, he could take a hand in this race.

Tidal Bay runs here in preparation for either the Betfair or Hennessy Chase and could run a big race, while Cape Tribulation is another who could be in the mix. He was beaten a head into second over 2m 2f on the flat at York two weeks ago, however he wouldn’t want it much softer today.

Preference is for Smad Place. Alan King’s five-year-old is reported to have improved physically over the summer. He was going well and in touch when unseating his jockey at the ninth hurdle at Aintree in the race won by Big Buck’s. An improving horse, make SMAD PLACE the selection at the early price.

Charlie Hall Chase (Grade 2)

At 3.25pm, the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase goes off. Last year’s runner-up Time For Rupert tries to go one better this time. He went on last year to beat The Giant Bolster at Newbury in December but was well beaten by another of today’s opponents, Midnight Chase, at Cheltenham last January. The latter is the highest rated horse in the field and if he can run up to his mark, he would be in the mix.

Silviniaco Conti will take all the beating though. Ruby Walsh has chosen to ride here instead of Down Royal which is significant. Although less experienced than his rivals, he could be that bit classier and his win at Aintree last April was impressive.

Master of the Hall, Planet of Sound and Wayward Prince make up the field, but SILVINIACO CONTI at the early price is the selection.

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