In the first column of an occasional series covering the big days in the UK racing calendar @StopwatchRacing picks a quartet of fancies from today's action at Ascot and Newcastle
"Prior to The Worlds End's seasonal reappearance, he was a winner of the 3-mile Grade 1 Novice at Aintree in a good sectional performance and was in the process of running a monster race at Cheltenham in the Albert Bartlett: a race where the first three (Penhill, Monalee and Wholestone) put up substantial figures on my ratings."
It's unusual for there to be British racing on December 23, which is usually reserved as a blank day to give stable staff a break before the busy Christmas period. A search of Timeform's results page informs me that the last occasion on which this occurred was 2008 when racing was held at Fontwell and Southwell. Whether this change is good for the industry is up for debate, but I'm certainly happy to have top-class racing on. Mrs Stopwatch, on the other hand, is less amused.
Readers of my selections via @BetfairRacing on Twitter will know I use sectional times to compile my own speed-ratings and it's primarily from those that I've drawn my selections today.
Don't give this one a Miss
We'll start off with a low-key race, the 12:50 at Newcastle. Miss Tiggy won narrowly last month in a weakish maiden hurdle and the handicapper has been generous in only raising her mark by four pounds. He may live to regret that move as, on the clock, Miss Tiggy's performance that day suggested she was more in the range of a 115 animal. As such, a mark of 103 looks more than fair, and she'll be hard to stop, for all the longer trip is something of a question mark.
A Christmas Angel to back
In the 13:00 from Haydock I like Angels Antics. She was disappointing last time out, where her less than fluent jumping found her out somewhat, and she looked a little paceless to boot. Prior to that, she'd benefited from a pace collapse at Ffos Las, staying on powerfully late on and putting in a sectional performance that had her marked out as a horse whose ability was in the mid-130s. The step up to the intermediate trip looks a positive one and she doesn't have much to find with Cap Soleil, who'll perhaps be less suited by this new test.
World's End a plausible Long Walk winner
Despite its Grade 1 status, and the illustrious names on the trophy, the Long Walk Hurdle looks to be a poor renewal, at least in terms of a stand-out performer. Unowhatimeanharry is better than these at his best, but has run around a stone below his best on his first two starts of the season. L'Ami Serge is a doubtful stayer, Lil Rockefeller is a solid mid-150s horse, but perhaps better over the intermediate trip, whilst Thomas Campbell and Sam Spinner have more on their plates in Grade 1 company than in handicaps off marks of 149 and 139 respectively.
The one I like in the race is The Worlds End. He was a disappointing when favourite off a mark of 149 on seasonal reappearance, but was entitled to need the run, and the ground was perhaps too soft for him on that occasion. Prior to that, he was a winner of the 3-mile Grade 1 Novice at Aintree in a good sectional performance and was in the process of running a monster race at Cheltenham in the Albert Bartlett: a race where the first three (Penhill, Monalee and Wholestone) put up substantial figures on my ratings. My guess is he wouldn't have beaten those three had he stood up, but even a close fourth that day would be form enough here and he's a backable price at 11.521/2.
Back Blue at a big price
In the 15:35 at Ascot I'd be surprised if the eight pound rise was sufficient to stop Verdana Blue following up. She was hampered early, but really got rolling late on and clocked a very good number in winning cosily, with her closing sectionals particularly good given the strong early pace. With scope for further improvement still, and seemingly identical conditions here, she can run well at 10.519/2.
Back Miss Tiggy at 5.5 in the 12:50 at Newcastle
Back Angels Antics at 10.0 in the 13:00 at Haydock
Back The Worlds End at 11.5 in the 14:25 at Ascot
Back Verdana Blue at 10.5 in the 15.35 at Ascot