With flat racing back next week, Tony Keenan does the figures on his winter columns and finds the best bets at Downpatrick this afternoon...
"Man With Van looked like he could be better than a 129 chaser when mixing it with the likes of Knockanrawley and Big Water last summer, that pair now rated 137 and 139 respectively."
If a purist were putting a racetrack together, Downpatrick wouldn't be it. Far from sweeping bends and long straights, the Ulster course is rollercoaster-esque but worth a trip if you get the chance and not only to marvel at how they let horses race around it, as the grub is pretty good too! The course hosts its big meeting of the year today with the Ulster National the feature.
Flat racing returns at the Curragh next Sunday so now presents an opportune time to take stock of how this column has done. From 112 bets, there have been 29 winners with a loss of 3.6 points to advised prices and 0.9 points to Betfair SP. Not terrible by any means after a slow start but it would be good to knock it into profit today.
Second favourite Utmost Zeal lives up to his name, deciding the pace he races at without reference to his jockey's wishes, and going up in trip will hardly suit; it's a 12 furlong hurdle race he wants. Furthermore, he has a hefty 8lbs penalty for his bumper win.
The race Salsa Sensation debuted in didn't look great at the time but the winner has won a handicap off 122 since and the second a maiden hurdle and he should improve for it. Since bought by JP McManus, better ground should suit though he is short enough.
In the place market, Mystic Princess looks a bet. She should uphold course form with Burton Hall having shaped better than the result - lost position early on second circuit and hampered by a faller - and has been steadily progressive in three hurdles runs thus far.
The ratings have this a tight contest but the three 130 horses have questions to answer. Neither Sailors Warn nor Fiery Oscar has shown anything recently while Massini's Trap comes off a break and is likely aiming at good spring handicap hurdles.
A good run from Idlewild would be no surprise but this looks Knight Parade's race to lose. A course winner, he comes here in excellent form and his trainer has won the last three renewals.
This field has more than its share of exposed runners in the likes of Jupitor and More Madness and while Bose Ikard may be capable of better, he comes off a break and may need proper fast ground.
Man With Van looked like he could be better than a 129 chaser when mixing it with the likes of Knockanrawley and Big Water last summer, that pair now rated 137 and 139 respectively. Returned from a break last time, he shaped with promise over a trip too sharp and this marathon test should suit.
The other one to back is Keep On Track. The eight-year-old stayed this sort of trip over banks - he was unlucky not to win a couple of those races - and while that form doesn't always equate, a mark of 108 is hardly high. The winner of a handicap chase on his first run for a new yard two starts back, the ground was too deep for him last time and he can bounce back.
John Monash was a heavily punted [1.88] jolly last time when a bit unlucky but he showed quirks aplenty too and Leopardstown bumper form on winter Sundays is generally better than that from Stratford before Cheltenham.
That leads me to Lip Service who ran behind two well-regarded Gigginstown horses last time when travelling much better than on debut with the hood applied. His form, boosted by the winner of the last in Gowran yesterday, looks better than the Elliott horse and should be the favourite.
1 Point Place Back Mystic Princess @ [2.5] or bigger in the Downpatrick 14:10
1 Point Back Knights Parade @ [2.6] or bigger in the Downpatrick 14:40
1 Point Back Man With Van @ [7.8] or bigger in the Downpatrick 15:45
1 Point Back Keep On Track @ [11.0] or bigger in the Downpatrick 15:45
1 Point Back Lip Service @ [2.6] or bigger in the Downpatrick 17:25