13:30 Sky Bet Supreme Trial (Rossington Main) (Grade 2) 1m 7f 144y
Pembroke was impressive when beating Western Zephyr (a winner before and since) into third at Ludlow before Christmas, and my belief is that the form of that race is deeper than it appears, with the runners well stretched out after the favourite had set a solid pace.
Pembroke was always tanking along, however, and had 16 lengths to spare over the promising Amrons Sage at the line.
Back in fourth at Ludlow was Bubble Dubi, who had been second to Tahmuras at Chepstow in a race where Pembroke was making his hurdles bow. That contest has worked out really well, and Pembroke has progressed with each start over timber having been let down by his jumping in the latter stages at Chepstow. He looks a smart prospect and will be hard to beat.
14:05 New One Unibet Hurdle (Grade 2) 1m 7f 144yds
Given the ground will be very testing, having been sweating under covers all week, I’m not keen to back anything at odds-on, and backers of Epatante would do well to watch the same connections’ Buveur D’Air struggle in this race two years ago when also clear on ratings.
It’s hard to measure his current well-being, but none will cope better on the ground than Jason The Militant, who makes his debut for Phil Kirby having joined that yard when Grant Nicholson bought him for £50,000 from Peter Michael Racing.
Jason The Militant won the Grade 3 Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Fairyhouse in 2021, beating dual Grade 1 winner Petit Mouchoir, and started favourite for the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle that spring.
He has since won the Listed Finale Stakes on the flat at Naas in October 2021, and was placed at that level in the summer, suggesting he’s lost little ability.
Best on deep ground, Jason The Militant has for figure on the flat and over jumps of 211313 when racing on ground with heavy in the description and while it’s easy to suggest caution given he’s left Henry de Bromhead since last seen, I think his price has overcompensated heavily for that fact.
Back him with and without the favourite in a race where his best form would be more than good enough to beat all of his opponents in the conditions.
14:40 Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (Limited Handicap) (Grade 2) 3m 1f 125yrds
I’d sooner cheat on my wife than desert Bristol De Mai, and I’m quite fond of the missus, so you can read that how you will.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’s course specialist is a veteran now at 12, but while not quite as good as he was at his peak, he looked to retain plenty of ability and enthusiasm when fourth in the Betfair Chase on his return, and he’s always been best fresh, so a break since that run in November is a positive.
All nine of Bristol De Mai’s course wins have come in pattern company, and his record stands at 111121P14, improving to 1111 on heavy ground.
He needed the stewards to intervene for his latest win in the Grand National Trial last spring, but has been given a chance by the handicapper with a 5lb drop in the ratings since then, and the vibes from Naunton are very positive, with Twiston-Davies convinced that his old warrior still has plenty to offer.
12:30 Winter Million Ballykelly Consulting Novices’ Handicap Hurdle 2m 3f 110yrds
Godot has caught the eye on recent starts and could be the value call here. He was stepped up to this trip at Huntingdon on St Stephen’s Day and was travelling better than anything bar the winner Seelotmorebusiness when making a shocking blunder at the third-last hurdle, and can be rated much better than his finishing position as a result.
He is ideally suited by testing ground and gives the impression his handicap mark is lenient, for all he needs to learn to settle and jump a little better to take advantage.
2:00 Fleur de Lys Chase 2m 6f 10yrds
There are no ground worries with any of the runners in the Fleur de Lys Chase, but the combination of ground and trip is a concern for one or two.
One who won’t mind that, however, is last year’s hero Two For Gold, who followed a gritty win here by finishing an excellent second to Fakir D’Oudairies in the Ascot Chase.
Kin Bailey’s gelding raced lazily before staying on late in the Grand Sefton on his reappearance, and the fitting of a visor should help him travel better, as indeed will the testing ground.
He’s best granted a proper slog at this sort of trip, and a repeat of his defeat of Dashel Drasher and Bristol De Mai here 12 months ago ought to be good enough to secure a second success in the contest.
Jason The Militant 2:05 Haydock – 1pt win at 16/1 generally
Jason The Militant (w/o Epatante) – 1pt win at 5/1 (Bet365)
Bristol De Mai 2:40 Haydock – 1pt win at 11/4 (general)