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

Declan Smyth has five Grade races to study on a bumper day of racing across the water.

Zarakandar: chance to set out Champion Hurdle credentials this afternoon.
Zarakandar: chance to set out Champion Hurdle credentials this afternoon.
Image: Tony Marshall/EMPICS Sport

CHELTENHAM STAGES ITS International meeting this weekend with three Grade races on this afternoon’s card to digest, not to mention one at Doncaster and a rare visit to Lingfield.

International Hurdle (Grade 2)

The International Hurdle due off at 3.05pm is probably the highlight of the day. Seven runners have been declared for this Grade 2 over 2m1f but in truth, it’s a three-horse race barring a fall.

Grandouet won last year’s race before a leg infection put paid to his Champion Hurdle dreams. On that occasion he beat Overturn by four lengths, putting to bed suggestions that he wouldn’t come up the Cheltenham hill, a concern which came about when he was beaten by another of today’s opponents, Zarkandar, in the Triumph Hurdle the previous March.

There’s no doubt that Grandouet improved from March to November; unfortunately the infection he picked up after this hampered any chances of success. He reappears here with good vibes coming from Nicky Henderson’s yard. He is reported to have strengthened up over the summer and is working and schooling well. If he is fit, and there’s no reason to believe he isn’t, he will be involved in the finish.

The reigning champion Rock On Ruby is now officially trained by Harry Fry, and he makes his seasonal debut here. There’s a niggling doubt that some of the horses he beat last year were not at their best, and it remains to be seen if he would prefer a longer trip. It will be interesting to see how he gets on.

Zarkandar put up a good show on his seasonal reappearance at Wincanton. He narrowly beat his stable companion Prospect Wells while conceding 17lbs to him, a feat that surprised trainer Paul Nicholls who said that he was never happy with him last year. He should improve for the run although it’s a concern that the stable hasn’t had many winners in the last two weeks.

It is a tricky race to read with only 4lbs separating them on official ratings. When you add in the fact that Zarkandar gets 4lbs from his two main rivals, it would appear that he has an advantage. GRANDOUET is open to more improvement though and with the stable adept at getting them right first time out and being in terrific form, he can show his opponents the way home.

Bristol Novices Hurdle (Grade 2)

Eight have been declared for the Grade 2 Bristol Novices Hurdle over 3m (1.55pm). With the rain falling at Cheltenham, it’s sure to be a test of stamina and Coneygree can confirm last month’s victory over According To Trev.

An interesting runner is Aerial from the Nicholls yard who hasn’t run over hurdles since coming over from France two years ago. He has some decent chase form since and is rated 155 over the larger obstacles.

CONEYGREE greatly impressed last time but any market moves should be noted.

Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2)

The Relkeel Hurdle over 2m4f 110yds goes off at 3.40pm. Only three go to post and Brampour is attempting to reverse a 14-length beating at the hands of Oscar Whisky three weeks ago at Ascot.

OSCAR WHISKY was very impressive that day and it’s hard to see either Brampour or Crack Away Jack, who is showing something of a return to form, troubling the Nicky Henderson horse who will be short odds to pick up the £22,780 first prize.

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Summit Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2)

Up at Doncaster, the Grade 2 Summit Juvenile Hurdle goes to post at 2.45pm. There was a lot to like about the Paul Nicholls-trained Sametegal when he won on his English debut at Wetherby at the beginning of November. He was a bit keen early on but his jumping was slick and he showed a nice turn of foot when beating Flashman by eight lengths.

Nicky Henderson is represented by Vasco De Ronceray. He was travelling easily at Cheltenham last month but found little when tackled by another Nicholls horse, Far West, and was beaten by seven lengths. He was given a rating of 140 after this.

It’s hard to make a case for any of the others and SAMETEGAL might just shade it.

December Novices’ Chase (Grade 2)

There is a disappointing turnout of four for the December Novices’ Steeplechase at Lingfield (1.45pm). Run over three miles, this is going to be severe test of stamina on the heavy going.

Houblon Des Obeaux has showed improved form this season, winning two chases before a disappointing fourth behind the useful Harry Topper at Newbury.

Minella Class disappointed last season before beating Theatrical Star on his reappearance. The latter did nothing for the form at Taunton the other day and it’s hard to see Henderson’s horse winning. Likewise Makethe Mostofnow would have to considerably improve to win.

Emma Lavelle’s COURT IN MOTION, who was off the track for a year-and-a-half, was beaten by Houblon Des Obeaux on his reappearance before finishing a well held runner-up to Dynaste at Newbury. He appeared to be in need of three miles in his latest runs and this could be an ideal opportunity for him to strike.

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Declan Smyth

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