This weekend represents something of a calm before the storm with the Dublin Racing Festival looming on the horizon, but there is some competitive action to enjoy at Cheltenham and Doncaster on Saturday that we can hopefully pull a winner or two out of.
Storm can take Control at a big price
On a weekend that is choc-full of the below-standard, uninspiring Graded races that are now so common in National Hunt racing, the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster (15:20) stands out like a beacon in the night. 17 runners, 4/1 the field, lovely jubbly.
The one I like in it is the Kerry Lee-trained Storm Control.
The nine-year-old won a valuable handicap chase at Cheltenham just over a year ago, but had run more poor races than good since then and had benefited from a 10lb drop in the ratings prior to lining up at Newbury last week. Despite making all in what was a well-run race, he held off late challengers and indeed seemed to be idling on his way to a ½-length success. He appeals as being better than that margin of victory suggests and he looks well treated under a 5lb penalty.
Daire McConville, a 10lb claimer, won on him at Newbury and retains the ride in this contest. While returning to the track just 10 days after that victory probably isn't ideal, he seems likely to make another bold bid from the front end.
North has a big chance down south
Twenty minutes later at Cheltenham the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (15:40) takes centre stage.
It doesn't appeal as being a particularly strong renewal of the race and it may pay to side with the least exposed runner in the field, the Alan King-trained North Lodge.
The well-bred five-year-old (half-brother to Winter Escape and out of a bumper winning half-sister to Black Jack Ketchum) was set a tough task on his racecourse debut against previous winners in a novices' hurdle at Aintree, but he overcame his inexperience to grind out a narrow victory.
His jumping was a bit novicey in places, but one would hope there should be plenty of improvement to come in that and indeed all other areas given his inexperience.
That Aintree form got a bit of a boost last weekend too with the third home Richmond Lake finishing second to Jonbon in a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Haydock. This longer trip should suit him and he is a very interesting contender.