Kevin Blake fancies two strong stayers
Grand Soir has strong claims at Doncaster
We aren't safe yet, lads! After a couple of months of weather-related uncertainty and disruption, it looked like we might be finally starting to get a better run of it, but at the time of writing there is a question mark over the packed nine-race card at Cheltenham on Saturday.
With a bit of luck it'll beat the frost and we can enjoy the feast it represents, but luckily I have a selection on what is a very good card at Doncaster to keep us ticking over regardless of what happens at Cheltenham.
Soir has a Grand chance with emphasis on stamina
The Albert Bartlett River Don Novices' Hurdle (14:40) at Doncaster doesn't seem to be of an electric standard for a Grade 2, but it is very competitive and with holes to be poked in a few of the fancied horses, the John McConnell-trained Irish raider Grand Soir makes quite a bit of appeal.
The seven-year-old has been very well placed to win his last three starts over hurdles, all of them around three miles. While the bare form isn't all that fancy in the context of this race, it was the style of his latest win in a rated novice hurdle at Thurles that suggests to me that he'll be capable of a fair bit better in different circumstances.
On that occasion he looked to find Thurles to be much too sharp for him. He was off the bridle and seemingly in trouble a long way out, but he hung in there and when they straightened up for home he really started to find his stride.
Once he eventually hit the front approaching the final hurdle, his demeanour completely changed and he clearly went into idle mode, pricking his ears and backing off all the way to the line. He was value for significantly more than his winning margin of 2¾ lengths and a greater test of stamina will allow him to show that on the track.
His connections have stated that a sound surface is important to him and he'll get that here.
This track will also play to his strengths much more so than Thurles did on his latest outing, with the hope being that it will put enough emphasis on stamina to showcase the full extent of his abundant staying power.
He might not be one of the fancier contenders for this race, but to my eye he looks to have an excellent chance. If one wanted to get brave, he is the type that is likely to come off the bridle earlier than most and could be worth looking to back at bigger prices in-running before his stamina really kicks in late.
Five-timer on the cards with improvement to come
Over at Cheltenham, the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (15:35) is the main race of interest. Much like the equivalent race at Doncaster, it couldn't be described as a deep Grade 2 in quality terms, but it has attracted a competitive field and represents an attractive betting heat.
The one I favour in this contest is cut from a similar cloth as the aforementioned Grand Soir, as the Henry Daly-trained Blenkinsop is a strong stayer that seems to get idle when he hits the front and doesn't show the full extent of his ability in victory as a result.
The six-year-old didn't have the pace to get involved in his first three starts over hurdles which were all over the minimum trip, but those runs led to him getting an initial mark of 104 that was quickly made to look very lenient once he stepped up in trip.
He has won four handicap hurdles on the bounce since then and his latest success in a competitive contest at Newbury suggests that he still has more improvement in him.
This trip, track and ground should all play to his strengths and it wouldn't surprise to see him complete a five-timer in this stronger company.