Newbury really have served us up a treat on Saturday with seven highly competitive races. Clearly trainers across the country need to work harder on their rain dances, however. The original forecast predicted significant rainfalls by the end of the week but as we move closer, that has changed to mere showers expected at Newbury on Friday afternoon into Saturday.
Nonetheless conditions should provide that wonderful 'no excuses' ground unless you have a runner who appreciates either extreme of course.
O'Brien looks an ideal jockey for Kalooki
I'm hoping that the ground won't hinder Kalooki in the 13:15 no matter what it turns up like on Saturday. Philip Hobbs's representative runs in the wide-open Sir Peter O'Sullevan Memorial Handicap Chase over 2m6f. Of course, cases can be made for a whole host of runners in this likeable contest but I'm keeping the enigma that is Kalooki on side to hopefully, add to his course and distance win from last season.
That success was Kalooki's first start over fences. Now, if you'd asked without knowing where Kalooki made a winning chase debut, never would you have imagined Newbury to be the track. Such is this horse's jumping technique which can be hair-raising to watch. Yet over this track and trip he was fantastic for a chasing debutant.
He jumped best when he was left to his own devices in assessing his stride. This is why I think Tom O'Brien will suit Kalooki. O'Brien has only ridden Kalooki once before, over hurdles where he ran well to finish second.
He's never ridden Kalooki over fences yet his quiet riding style is what this horse needs. We know Kalooki has one main preference, running at a lefthanded track as he jumps significantly out to his left when under pressure or when asked to see a stride. That became even more pronounced when pulling up in the Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton last season where his lefthanded jumps resulted in an incompletion. The frustration about that run was that his actual clearance of his obstacles was so solid up until the final two fences before the swing into the home straight.
Yes he ran down his fences to his left which cost him ground but he barely touched a twig at the same time. As soon as the pace lifted and he was asked to pick up and go long at his fences, that's when he paid the price for his lefthanded preference.
On his latest start he was unable to get to the lead at Newbury over too short a trip of 2m3f187y but jumped well in the main with a good sighter at his fences. However, once again, when under pressure and asked to mount his challenge, he ran his fences down to his left. He then nearly knuckled over from trying to sort his landing gear out in a compromised position. At the final fence he jumped so violently to his left that he collided with the rear end of the eventual winner, the reopposing Espoir De Teillee. Yet Kalooki once again showed his large engine to regather and to stay on best of all over the trip to be beaten just a head.
Catching Kalooki fresh looks a good ploy and without a natural front-runner in this line-up either, that will hopefully mean Kalooki will be ridden forwards. O'Brien looks a well-tailored jockey to this horse's needs and back over this course and distance, he looks a good bet.
Pair have ideal profiles to challenge De Bromhead's Eklat
Sometimes I do ask why I set myself these tasks of trying to find the winner of some of the most competitive handicaps of the season when I have the choice of so many other races. Yet if you're not enticed to have an opinion in a race such as the Ladbrokes Trophy at 15:00, then you really are in the wrong game.
For the past few years, the Ladbrokes Trophy has needed the spark of a top class, potential future Grade 1 winner. This season, with the inclusion of the Irish raiders, we may well have that angle with Eklat De Rire who could be on his way to greater things still.
The hilarious thing being that if Eklat De Rire posts a dominant performance in this race off a mark of 154, he could find himself prominent in the Gold Cup betting. That may mean that Henry De Bromhead ends up with the first four in the betting for National Hunt racing's Blue Riband event - what an embarrassment of riches that would be.
As I said, Eklat De Rire could be anything still so isn't a horse I want to take on lightly in this race. However, there are two runners I like at each-way prices to chance filling the frame.
Those selections are Remastered and Potterman. Both have the ideal profiles for this race on recent renewals. Firstly, they're both eight-year-olds, they're rated in the sweet spot of 146-150 resulting in nice racing weights. More significantly though, both have had a reappearance start. The Ladbrokes Trophy has been won by horses having their second start of the season in all of the last five editions of this race. It's also worth siding with a horse who won or placed on their reappearance start which both Remastered and Potterman did.
My slight preference from a form and running style perspective is Remastered as he's likely to be ridden prominently as that's his only real way of going. This has looked the target for David Pipe's runner following his reappearance start over hurdles. He ran respectably on that latest start where he qualified for the Pertemps Final after finishing third behind Koshari beaten just over one-length at Aintree over 3m 1/2f. That run should tee him up nicely for this race.
The biggest concern about Remastered's chances is the ground. I'm hoping that the ground cuts up enough from the Friday to the Saturday to suit Remastered just enough as he ideally, wants softer conditions.
Due to that concern, I'm also having a saver on Potterman who certainly won't be hindered by better ground. Unlike Remastered though, Potterman is sure to be ridden with more restraint. For all recent renewals of this race suggest you want a prominent racer, there's a slight concern there might be a lot of those this year. Therefore, Potterman may buck the trend of horses coming from off the pace and is a saver should that transpire.
Éclair D'Ainay looks a big player
My final race to analyse is yet another fascinating Handicap Chase at 15:35, this time over 2m where I want to keep Éclair D'Ainay on side. For all we have plenty of likeable, in-form and consistent horses set to contest this race, I'm not sure it's a vintage renewal in terms of established class.
Two winners of this race in the last six years were rated 147, those horses weren't even the standout highest rated runners in their respective line-ups either. The top weights in this year's race are Sully D'Oc and Gumball on marks of 145, both of which I'm willing to take on despite the proven class angle.
However, I don't want to stray too far from marks of around 140 for this race nor do I want to side against experience. Therefore, the horse who splits the difference in this race with those preferences in mind is Éclair D'Ainay.
Dan Skelton has been having a wonderful season, from graded contests to handicaps, he's been able to solve all manners of races. I'm hoping that will be the case again with this seven-year-old gelding who's already had a reappearance start which is another positive for this race.
Éclair D'Ainay finished fourth last time out at Wetherby over 2m3f85y. He was keen enough early on without racing with the choke out. His exuberance was there for all to see as he tucked his head into his chest and, from starting in rear, he soon made his way onto the heels of the leaders after just two fences. The ease with which he travelled through the race was so likeable, showing the pace he possesses. He was quick and clever over his fences before looking the winner on the turn into the home straight.
He loomed upsides the eventual winner, Good Boy Bobby who runs in the 2m7f Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle on Saturday. Éclair D'Ainay was asked up off a long stride at the first fence in the home straight which he had to reach for but showed his honesty and came up for Harry Skelton. He lost momentum yet stuck to the task well under pressure. Managing to get himself back upsides the winner at the second last fence before weakening between the final two obstacles.
He again showed his genuine nature at the final fence when clearly a very tired horse but still responded to the call for a long stride and just made it over. He plugged on under pressure to the line in gallant fashion despite not getting the trip against true stayers. Good Boy Bobby set strong fractions throughout the race with Daryl Jacob riding him to optimal effect as the trip looked minimal for him.
Éclair D'Ainay lost third near the line as he was poached by another horse looking in need of a stiffer test. I think this drop back to two miles will suit Éclair D'Ainay. His jumping style and cruising speed should be seen to much better effect back at the minimum. He'll likely come forwards for that latest start and has been eased 1lb by the handicapper also which makes him a big player.