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saturday 2nd march selections

2:20 Doncaster – TRM Handicap Chase

TOUBAB looked progressive last season and was running a big race in the Grand Annual only to be brought down four out, when still travelling well. He ran off a rating of 143 that day and comes here off 140, despite having subsequently run well behind Sprinter Scare off level weights. Ground conditions have not been in his favour on his two starts this season, but he has his ground for this and on a track that Paul Nicholls does so well on with his chasers (36% strike rate over the last five years), he is fancied to win.

2:55 Doncaster – William Hill Grimthorpe Chase

JOIN TOGETHER was one of the top novice chasers of last season and this trip of three miles two furlongs looks ideal for him. He is a class act on his day and now that the Grand National weights have come out, he has been allowed to race again and show that he is still on a fair mark. Last time out he stayed on strongly over the National fences to finish second to Hello Bud and last season he gave weight and easily beat Champion Court at Cheltenham, which is top form. The Nicholls team remains in good form and although he is close to the top of the weights, he has a touch of class and on good ground, can outclass the opposition.

3:30 Doncaster – William Hill – Download The App Handicap Hurdle

This step up in trip to three miles should really suit AAIM TO PROSPER who rates a confident selection. Rated 107 on the flat, he has made a fair start over hurdles, finishing second over an inadequate trip on his debut, before running well behind two very promising novices at Doncaster, in Zuider Zee and Minella Forfitness (now rated 135). On his final start he also ran well to finish second at Ascot and with a rating of just 124 for his handicap debut, I can fully understand why connections have decided to go the handicap route, rather than try to win a novice hurdle. Ground conditions are very similar to last time at Doncaster and with the extra distance of this race likely to play to his strengths, I am very confident that he will run very well.

3:50 Newbury –Greatwood Gold Cup

With seven of the ten horses to win this race having finished in the first four on their most recent outing, it seems that horses in form tend to go well here. This is something of a setback for six of this year’s field with Ballabriggs, Pacha Du Polder, The Knoxs, Pepite Rose, Mahogany Blaze and Bahrain Storm all needing to improve on recent performances in order to go close here. It is also interesting to note that the trio of Big Fella Thanks, Midnight Sail and Saved By John will be bidding to emulate Isio, who remains the only horse to have won here having also been victorious on their latest visit to the racecourse.

Without doubt the strongest trend associated with the Greatwood Gold Cup is the fact that all of its winners had fallen or unseated no more than twice during their careers over obstacles. This 2m 4f contest represents a major test of a horse’s ability to jump well and at speed so it is little surprise to know that those with question marks surrounding their jumping have tended to struggle here in the past. Only three of this year’s field miss the cut at this stage with Big Fella Thanks, The Knoxs and Mahogany Blaze all exceeding the quota for costly errors and given the strength of the trend, I am happy to rule these three out of contention at this stage.

Another notable statistic is that of the ten horses to have won this race, seven of them had an official rating of 135 or higher. The line-up for the Grade 3 this year includes five horses who fail to meet this standard with Midnight Sail, Mr Gardner, Saved By John, Bahrain Storm and Garynella all needing to run above their handicap marks to go close here. There is reason for optimism for these select few by looking to the likes of New Little Bric who won here off 133 in 2009 and the 2011 victor Fine Parchment who was rated only 130.

The stable of Paul Nicholls has long been a production line for winners of big races but there will not be many races in which the master of Ditcheat has a better record than this one. In fact he has already managed to saddle five winners since the race was first run in 2004, including four of the last five winners. This year he has two representatives in the form of the ten-year-old The Knoxs and the six-year-old Pacha Du Polder. This record is certainly worth keeping in mind when narrowing down the shortlist given that Nicholls seems to know the sort of horse that can go well here.

In terms of age the most successful group to follow here are the eight–year-olds who are responsible for five winners. Saved By John will be flying the flag for that generation this year and connections will be hoping that he can add to their tally on Saturday. At the older end of the age spectrum there would have to be concerns for supporters of Ballabriggs as at the age of twelve, he would be a year older than Horus who dead-heated for first in 2006.

The final factor worthy of mention is that seven of the ten winners of this race have come from the first five in the betting. However it would be wrong to assume that favourites do well here with only three winning favourites during the race’s short history. The market is open to change between now and the off-time so it is difficult to make a firm judgment, but it should still be factored in to any final decisions regarding potential contenders.



Pacha Du Polder

Tony Star


Considering the record that Paul Nicholls has in the race it seemed that one of his representatives this year had to make the shortlist. I went for Pacha Du Polder on the basis that he has done very little wrong in his relatively short career to date. He was a Grade 2 winning chaser as a novice over two and a half miles and this race looks likely to suit the six-year-old. He needs to bounce back after being pulled up last time but it was desperate ground that day at Cheltenham and he looks likely to improve for better ground at the weekend. He is still entitled to be improving and looks set for a big showing on Saturday.

Tony Star has made an encouraging start to his chasing career with a creditable effort in Grade 2 company and a three-length defeat to Tetlami either side of an out of sorts performance in which he fell. This has resulted in Philip Hobbs’ charge achieving a lofty handicap mark of 138 despite still learning at this chasing game. It looks as though there is more to come from the six-year-old and given that he tended to run well in large fields over hurdles, there is reason to be optimistic of his chances here. He does need to improve to beat some of his rivals here but he fits many of the criteria needed to do well and he could go very close.

The marginal preference is for the sole eight-year-old in the field, the Tim Vaughan-trained SAVED BY JOHN. He arrives here on the back of a win having got up close home to win over 2m at Wincanton and the extra four furlongs should be no problem as he won over the same distance on his chasing debut. In terms of his jumping, he has made very few errors so far and will need to continue that level of performance to contend here. He looks to be heading the right way and as long as he copes well with this higher level of competition, he looks likely to be involved at the business end of the race.