NORTH YORKSHIRE trainers Malcolm Jefferson, John Quinn and Tim Easterby venture across the M62 to Haydock today – all with claims on notable prizes.
Jefferson is aiming to hit the Grade 2 jackpot with Oscar Rock, who steps up to three miles for the first time in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle as he bids to gain his second win of the campaign and put himself in the reckoning for a trip to next month's Cheltenham Festival.
Successful at Wetherby in the autumn, on his first run for Jefferson and on his hurdles debut, Oscar Run was narrowly beaten at Newcastle next time by the high-class Ballyalton before finishing third in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury during Christmas week.
Jefferson has since tweaked his training routine in an attempt to freshen him up and put an edge on him. The Norton trainer reported this week that Oscar Rock has “blossomed” under his new regime.
This afternoon's race has attracted a smart field, but Oscar Rock gets the vote to begin fulfilling his vast potential by coming out on top under Brian Hughes.
Hughes will be aboard John Quinn’s Aurore D’Estruval in the opening Betfred ‘Goals Galore’ Victor Ludorum Hurdle, in which Tim Easterby is also represented by Hawk High.
Winner of two of his three starts this season, Hawk High has good prospects, but nap selection Aurore D’Estruval is marginally preferred. The French recruit looked a useful prospect when winning easily at Wetherby on her first outing for Quinn at the beginning of the month. She receives the mares' allowance today and can put the weight advantage to good use.
The Betfred Grand National Trial is the most valuable race on Haydock’s potentially informative card and Loch Ba makes plenty of appeal from the foot of the handicap.
A good second in the Tommy Whittle Chase here in December, Mick Channon’s stout stayer has since finished a creditable fourth to Shotgun Paddy in a competitive Grade 3 handicap at Warwick.
He will stay every yard of this three miles and five furlongs trip and can shine under Dominic Elsworth.
The Betfred Mobile Hurdle – better known as the Rendlesham Hurdle – carries Grade 2 status and Celestial Halo, winner in an identical grade in two of his last three starts, holds all the aces in the three mile contest.
Sam Twiston-Davies has the mount on Paul Nicholls’ able stalwart.
Also worthy of a second look at Haydock are last month’s course winner Extreme Impact (3.30) and the in-form Gardefort (4.35), who is bidding for hat-trick honours for Venetia Williams.
At Ascot, the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase takes pride of place and Captain Chris, runner-up to Cue Card in the corresponding race 12 months ago, is selected to go one better.
Philip Hobbs’ high-class gelding was a wide-margin winner of a Listed race at Kempton’s over Christmas and looks a horse back on top of his game.
He is the highest-rated runner in this afternoon’s line up and should be hard to beat under Richard Johnson.
All eyes will be on Gevrey Chambertin in the RSA Trial Novices’ Chase.
David Pipe's charge, a 148-rated hurdler and winner of Haydock’s Fixed Brush Hurdle Final in November, has yet to race over fences, but promises to be very smart.
Victory here will enhance his prospects of appearing at next month’s Cheltenham Festival in the RSA Chase.
1.45 Aurore D’Estruval (NAP), 2.20 Celestial Halo, 2.55 Loch Ba, 3.30 Extreme Impact, 4.05 Oscar Rock, 4.35 Gardefort, 5.05 Always Right.
1.30 Un Temps Pour Tout, 2.05 Gevrey Chambertin, 2.40 Hawkes Point, 3.15 Heath Hunter, 3.50 Captain Chris, 4.20 Wilde Blue Yonder, 4.50 Royal Vacation.
Today’s other meetings: Lingfield and Wincanton.
Tomorrow’s meeting: Market Rasen. The meeting at Ffos Las was abandoned.