Rory Delargy heads to Wincanton for couple of fancies over the stiff Somerset fences...
"Highland Lodge can put himself in the picture for the Hennessy Gold Cup by beating his inferiors at 14:55. It's a competitive race on paper, but the early exploits over fences of Emma Lavelle's charge mark him down as better than his current mark implies, particularly a trouncing of the well-touted Our Father at Cheltenham in December."
Mention of the Desert Orchid Handicap Chase at Wincanton automatically evokes memories of David Elsworth's immortal grey, who was a regular at the West Country track a quarter of a century ago. Dessie's bold-jumping style endeared him to racing fans from the moment he switched to fences, and he did more for the popularity of racing that any marketing campaign ever could.
It's appropriate that the likeliest winner of the race named in his honour is also a front runner with a fine leap, and Highland Lodge can put himself in the picture for the Hennessy Gold Cup by beating his inferiors at 14:55. It's a competitive race on paper, but the early exploits over fences of Emma Lavelle's charge mark him down as better than his current mark implies, particularly a trouncing of the well-touted Our Father at Cheltenham in December, while his third in the Worcester Novices' Chase at Newbury was another noteworthy effort. The yard's subsequent loss of form has been covered by me before, but essentially means that many of Lavelle's better horses start the 2013/14 campaign well handicapped, and this is a prime example.
The danger to Highland Lodge is Standing Ovation, and I'm well aware that it was David Pipe's charge who spoilt the party when I tipped up Qianshan Express in this column a few weeks ago. I opined then that he was extremely well handicapped and would progress as his jumping frailties were ironed out, but he'll need to take another step up to score today, with his mark now 16 lb higher. That progress is more than possible, but he'll find the talented Highland Lodge a much harder nut to crack than his stablemate.
Earlier on the card, I was keen on the chances of Victor Dartnall's Silver Commander in the 14:20, a novices' handicap chase over 2m5f. The son of Silver Patriarch was a big disappointment when a distant second at Exeter last time, stopping quickly having given sole serious rival Dawn Commander a jumping lesson for much of the way. That sound jumping will be an asset against raw novices, as will the drop in trip and, most importantly, the refitting of a tongue tie. It's safe to assume that Silver Commander suffers with his breathing, and that is disguising his true ability, so I'll be insuring my bet with an in-running lay. He's currently trading at 16.0 on Betfair, but I'd be very surprised if he didn't hit much lower, and I'd be hopeful of trading my stake back at no bigger than 4.0 in the run. Hopefully he can break a frustrating run, but it may pay to be prudent with the in-running strategy.
Both at Wincanton
Back Silver Commander @ 16.015/1 in the 14:20 (Back To Lay)
Back Highland Lodge @ 3.7511/4 in the 14:50 (NAP)