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

This afternoon’s Grade 2 at Cheltenham could give us a glimpse of some contenders for the 2013 Supreme Novice Hurdle. Declan Smyth looks at the form.

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie

Opus Energy Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2)

THIS AFTERNOON’S GRADE 2 Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham (2.25pm) kicks off a busy weekend of Graded races for us. Eight runners have been declared and as is usual in these early-season races, we wonder if there is some hidden gem among the runners to surprise us.

Court Minstrel has been described by his trainer Evan Williams as being highly strung. Somewhat unusually he ran in five bumpers last season, although he obviously has ability as he won two of them and was placed in the others. He then reappeared in mid-October when he won a maiden hurdle at Cheltenham.

He will improve for the run although it’s worth noting that the fourth horse last time out, who was beaten by just over four lengths, has won since and been given an official rating of 122. On that basis, Court Minstrel might still have to find a good bit to win today.

Magic Spear represents Colm Murphy. Although he won his bumper and maiden hurdle and has been placed in his other three starts, there are likely to be a few better than him here.

Michael Hourigan’s Run with the Wind has won three of his six starts over hurdles. Rated 135 over hurdles, he is pretty exposed and it’s hard to see him winning here as is the case with another opponent, Ted Dolly.

Duke of Navan won his only start over hurdles at Newcastle at the end of October. However he was well beaten by one of today’s opponents, Nicky Henderson’s River Maigue, in a bumper at Ayr last April. He is worth watching though.

Jonjo O’Neills Tominator is a high-class recruit from the flat. Rated a 100 on the flat at one stage, he won a listed handicap at Chester and  ran out the impressive winner of a novice contest on his hurdling debut at Bangor just over two weeks ago. He will be obviously fit from his exploits over the summer and could take a hand in the finish.

River Maigue won his point-to-point in Ireland before finishing third in a hot bumper at Ascot where he ran a bit free. He then went to Ayr where he gave Barry Geraghty a nice feel when having a comfortable win in another bumper last April.

He hasn’t been out since, and though his trainer reports that he has schooled well, lack of experience and fitness might tell against him.

The one they all have to beat is DODGING BULLETS from the Paul Nicholls yard with Ruby Walsh on top. He had some top form last season finishing a close second to Grumeti at Kempton before finishing fourth in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham when looking like a winner coming to the last.

We can ignore his run at Aintree when he was almost brought down and he finished the season as a maiden with a rating of 148. He reappeared at Cheltenham in a four-year-old hurdle and easily accounted for a small field when, in the words of his trainer, he was only half-fit.

This afternoon has been his early-season target, and given that Nicholls also described him as a backward horse last year, he should be good enough to win this and reinforce his trainer’s opinion that he could be a contender for the Supreme Novices.

Reproduced with permission from WhiteFlagIsRaised.com >>

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Declan Smyth

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