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1.30 - Paddy Power Novices' Hurdle (2m5f)
Lecale's Article is the starting point, given that he was a decisive odds-on scorer at Newbury (2m, soft) in December on debut for the Nicky Henderson yard. He did as was expected of him but he flashed his tail at times and, upped in journey and facing stern opposition, this is a more searching test of his credentials. It's also to be noted that the form of that Newbury success isn't overly strong.
Philip Hobbs' dual Taunton winner Stellar Magic has twice scored on soft/heavy going over 2m3f and should have no fears over conditions/trip this afternoon. The double penalty he carries however is asking plenty of him. He's been going through his races with a minimum of fuss and there could still be plenty more to come from him, despite the imposing burden.
Ben Pauling's Artemision rates a possible improver, while Hereford winner Beatthebullet should find conditions testing enough to place emphasis on his proven stamina. They are both solid contenders but preference is for STRIKING A POSE.
Colin Tizzard's runner got on the scoresheet at the third time of asking when landing a Wincanton novices' handicap (2m5½f, good to soft) in early December, seemingly relishing the increased tax on stamina that day given how well he travelled through the race. The form is fair and with the Dorset handler now happily watching his string find their form again, Aidan Coleman's mount is tipped to make further progress here.
2.05 - Close Brothers Warwick Mares' Hurdle (Listed, 2m5f)
French raider PAUL'S SAGA looks to hold the ace-hand here for trainer David Cottin. She's got lots of experience over hurdles in her native land and is already a Grade 3 scorer at Auteuil (2m3½f, heavy) this season. Since that win, she narrowly missed out on Grade 1 glory in the Grand Prix D'automne Hurdle over three-miles, beaten a half-length by old foe Galop Marin. Back against her own sex, she's got standout claims in this first visit to British shores based on her rating. Champion jockey Brian Hughes is booked, with the mare sporting first-time tongue-tie and cheekpieces.
Whitehotchillifili remains a very reliable performer in this arena and should go well, while it's too soon to be writing off Eglantine Du Seuil for the Paul Nicholls. This is her first run under new ownership but it's a while since we've seen the best of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival-winning novice.
If there's to be an upset, perhaps it will come via the Skelton's Molly Ollys Wishes. She arrives here on the back of wins at Hereford and Kempton late last year and, like the market leader, is proven over further so won't mind a real stamina test. She also thrives in the mud and comes into this contest off the back of a career-best at Christmas.
2.40 - Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices' Chase (Grade 2, 2m)
He may be headed towards a blockbuster Arkle next month at Cheltenham given the emergence of Energumene as a proper threat to Shishkin, but that doesn't mean the bold ALLMANKIND won't be a player in the Cotswolds himself.
He has really taken to jumping fences for Dan and Harry Skelton and is expected to make it 3-3 over these obstacles this afternoon. He has made the running in his wins over C&D (good) in November and when landing the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase on soft at Sandown the following month and he's yet to be really asked a question, given the powerful manner in which he went about those tasks.
The yard remains in sublime form (28 per-cent strike-rate in recent weeks) and this next step up the ladder should ensure Allmankind commands a good deal of respect going into the aforementioned Arkle on the opening afternoon of the Cheltenham Festival in four weeks.
Sky Pirate is in rude health himself and he strung out his rivals in a fair handicap over C&D last month, ensuring he comes here in good tune too. He is though fairly exposed and after wins at Carlisle and Haydock before Christmas, it may prove that six-year-old Cheddleton is the one best placed to play second fiddle for Allmankind.
3.15 - Paddy Power Warwick Castle Handicap Chase (2m4f)
Aso was good enough for second behind Frodon in the 2019 Ryanair at the Cheltenham Festival but Venetia Williams' charge needs a major revival if he's to defy top weight in this contest. It hasn't been happening for him of late and this is another daunting assignment.
Mister Whitaker, Spiritofthegames and Oldgrangewood are all rock-solid propositions and it wouldn't rank as a kind of surprise to find any of them going well.
Two For Gold bounced back from a Ladbrokes Trophy flop with a solid third at Kempton last month behind Double Shuffle in a handicap over three-miles. He does boast winning form at this distance but it's shorter than ideal for him to produce his best stuff.
Admiral's Secret can have his own notions (twice refused to race in the past) but he produced a career-best at Ludlow (2m, soft) in December on his return to action and did so in very ready fashion. This longer trip holds no fears and, up 6lb, he's a key player assuming he comes through the preliminaries without any hitches.
Smarty Wild beat an exposed field at Kempton over a similar trip last month when opening his account over fences but may need more here and so the vote goes to FLOWERY for trainer Iain Jardine.
He's not finished out of the first two in five starts over fences and his Ayr second (2m½f, heavy) on seasonal bow in October showed his rating is within his compass. He'll be just fine going up in trip and has proved himself in the mud on multiple occasions already. This represents a rise in class but the lightly-raced nine-year-old commands a place in the field and should have further progress in him as a chaser. He can go well fresh, so the break since that Scottish second in late autumn isn't off-putting.
3.50 - From The Horses Mouth Podcast Handicap Hurdle (3m2f)
Mr Washington is four-from-four since joining this yard and the nature of his wins ensure that the handicapper is struggling to get to terms with him. He won over C&D on New Year's Eve and should give another rock-solid account have gone up 3lb for the latest success.
No shortage of dangers in his way here however and perhaps the winning run will end.
Ballymillsy improved his lot when chasing home in-form Paddys Motorbike at Huntingdon (2m3½f, soft) just before Christmas. An opening mark of 121 could be within reach for Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge, though his stamina is yet to be tested over this sort of searching trip.
De Young Warrior, Blame The Game and Honest Exchange are possible improvers here, the last-named representing a Colin Tizzard yard that has now found some form after a trying winter.
SAMTARA remains a maiden but has made the frame in four of seven starts over hurdles thus far. He was inched out over 2m5f on soft ground here in December and once more missed out by the slenderest of margins last month at Hereford when tackling this sort of trip for the first time in his career.
Martin Keighley's seven-year-old did very little wrong in either instance, and the form of those runs stands up to scrutiny in the context of this event. He's a little unfortunate to have been put up 4lb for that latest narrow reverse, but the majority of that is offset by Fergus Gregory's claim now. He really took to the stiff stamina test last time and must stand an excellent chance of getting on the scoresheet with more to come at this distance.
4.25 - Paddys Rewards Club Handicap Hurdle (2m)
AMARILLO SKY is fancied to improve his lot here for the Colin Tizzard yard. As noted already, the Dorset handler found that his team were under something of a cloud through the midwinter period but that cloud is now lifting and a promising spring ahead looks likely.
A point-to-point winner in Ireland last March for the excellent Colin Bowe, Amarillo Sky acquitted himself fairly well in strong races at Newbury and Ascot in November on good/soft ground. He finished fourth in the second of those behind ultra-impressive next-time-out Grade 1 winner Metier.
A mark of 117 looks a decent starting point for him now switched to handicaps with the stable form on the upturn.
Hasankey has been in very consistent form of late and handles the forecast testing ground, ensuring Laura Morgan's Fontwell runner-up is high on the list of alternatives, while Guernsey and Song Of The Hunter rate as types to do better things and Fil D'ariane is certain to appreciate the conditions and should have place claims.
4.55 - Paddy Power Intermediate Open NH Flat Race (2m)
Tiny Tantrum ran a pleasing race on debut at Huntingdon on December (third) and may have run into a smart sort when taking the same spot as 11-8 market leader at Fakenham last time. He's got every chance of being involved again while Sherborne, Kyntara and Nothin To Ask all merit close inspection on recent racecourse efforts.
French Flat winner Horn Cape commands maximum respect in the JP McManus hoops having joined Nicky Henderson for his bow in this sphere but perhaps the Dan Skelton-trained newcomer REILLY can have a say. The trainer is enjoying a fine time of it with his bumper horses (6-23 since the New Year) and Milan gelding should know his job first time up.