Haydock Saturday

2:05 Challenger Two Mile Hurdle Series Final Handicap Hurdle 1m 7f 144y

Brentford Hope came good at Newcastle last time in a qualifier for this and while he could have done without the 5lb rise he picked up for that win, I thought he was suited by a more attacking ride, and he found plenty for pressure to withstand the persistent challenge of Horn Cape.

He holds Salsada on that form, and the track and trip should suit him, with his unplaced effort in the Swinton over course and distance last spring down to the very quick ground on the day.

He’s always been at his most effective on deep ground and the likely heavy ground (dear old Kirkland hasn’t changed the going all week despite an inch of rain) will be an asset.

2:40 Challenger Stayers Hurdle Series Final Handicap Hurdle 3m 58y

Astronomic took his time getting off the mark in handicaps but he’s looked better the farther he’s gone in recent months, and he ran away with a qualifier for this at Warwick (3m 2f, heavy) to shed his maiden status earlier this month.

The son of Schiaparelli could be called the winner a long way from home at Warwick, with Lucy Gardner having to take a pull more than once, and she would have won by much further than 21 lengths but for easing down heavily after landing over the last with My Bobby Dazzler and Martha’s Brae legless in pursuit.

It’s hard to envisage that pair turning the tables under very similar conditions, and now that Astronomic has got his head in front, he’s the type to progress again, and an 8lb rise is not prohibitive.

The other going the right way at present is bottom weight Shoeshine Boy, who has improved for the application of a tongue-tie on his last two starts, winning in testing ground at both Ayr and Kelso.

He was well beaten here in December but was subsequently fitted with a tongue tie when winning his next two. Rated 102 this time last year, he has subsequent form figures in handicaps which read 1222411 but is – unbelievably – just 5lb higher now despite that improvement.

3:15 Unibet Middle Distance

Veterans’ Handicap Chase Finale 2m 3f 203y

Once again there are two who appeal more than the others in the veterans’ contest. Numitor is a sound jumping front-runner and came back from the best part of a year’s absence to run well at Exeter earlier in the month, unsurprisingly weakening out of it from two out, but not beaten that far in the end.

He’s been fairly lightly raced in recent seasons and doesn’t have that many miles on the clock for a veteran. With soft ground course and distance form to call upon, he could be hard to peg back if allowed too much rope, and his second to Heltenham at Newbury last spring looks better now given the winner’s recent exploits.

Champagne Mystery caught the eye when fifth to Ga Law at Cheltenham in January, his pilot making a rapid - and ill-advised - move down the hill which left him with nothing in the tank for the final climb.

He confirmed the promise of that run when a two-length third to Golden Son at Kempton last time, and both trip and ground will suit, so he appeals as a saver and/or for exotics.

Musselburgh Saturday

1:50 Virgin Bet Royal Mile

Handicap 1m 2y

Individualism appears well treated in on the pick of his juvenile form and is bred to progress well with age, so looks hard to oppose on ground he will handle.

The half-brother to Gold Cup winner Subjectivist is by more of a speed influence in Too Darn Hot, but he should still prove better at a mile and further than he has at seven furlongs to date, and the form of his last two starts has worked out well, with Newmarket conqueror Zoum Zoum won a listed race shortly afterwards.

Prior to that he split subsequent winners Respectful and Volterra, now rated 87 and 82 respectively, at Ayr. On that showing, his opening mark of 78 is lenient.

2:25 Virgin Bet Silver Arrow Handicap 7f 15y

I thought the market leaders had a bit to prove in this from a handicapping perspective, with Gweedore much higher in the weights than when winning this race in 2022 and 2023, and Northern Express, second in 2022 and only fifth last year, also higher in the handicap than for those defeats.

Poet Master is unexposed but also unproven on the ground and the pair who make most appeal are Darkness and Zip.

The former ran well when runner-up on his return from an absence last spring, and with that run coming on heavy ground at Redcar, can be expected to go well again, with the pick of last year’s efforts, a close fourth in the Golden Mile at Goodwood, suggesting he’s well treated off a 4lb lower mark.

Zip makes marginally more appeal at the overnight odds, however, and the key to him is having a recent run under his belt on soft ground. His overall record appears patchy enough, but his form figures at seven furlongs on soft/heavy ground when running within a fortnight of a previous run read 311221453109641.

That record improves to 212 when the break between runs is less than a week, and his creditable fourth at Doncaster on Sunday over an inadequate six furlongs should tee him up perfectly for this.

3:00 Virgin Bet Scottish Sprint Cup Handicap 5f 1y

Fine Wine had the best of the early speed to lead them from stall five, and will likely tack over to the stands’ rail, which should allow Glorious Angel to sit on his shoulder, and she is fancied to show the better mid-race pace in conditions she handles very well.

She has twice finished second (from two starts) in heavy ground last year and was better than the result when down the field in the Cammidge Trophy at Doncaster last week, with the six-furlong trip into the teeth of a headwind stretching her.

She should be spot-on after a couple of starts this month and with Brandon Wilkie taking a useful 5lb off, she looks the value option ahead of last year’s winner Silky Wilkie, who is respected but well found in the market.

3:35 Virgin Bet Queen’s Cup (Heritage Handicap) 1m 5f 216y

Second in this from a 7lb lower mark last year, Metier threw in a stinker over hurdles at Sandown earlier in the month, but that was merely mirroring what he did last year, so that’s of no concern.

He simply looks out of love with the winter game these days, and last year’s Chester Cup winner is happier on the flat. It would be easy to dismiss this as a warm-up for another crack at Chester, but it’s a decent pot, and he’s not taken lightly.

Emiyn loves the ground but this probably is a warm-up for Chester, where he shows his best form, and Chillingham makes more appeal for top honours, with his record on ground described by Timeform as soft/heavy reading 112; he was a winner at Thirsk first time up last season, proving he can go well fresh, and an excellent fourth to Vauban at Royal Ascot vouches for his class.


Numitor 3:15 Haydock – 1pt win @ 11/2 (Paddy Power, Betfair, 5/1 general)

Zip 2:25 Musselburgh – 1pt e/w @ 9/1 (Bet365 3 places, or 8/1 SkyBet 4 places)

Glorious Angel 3:00 Musselburgh – 1pt e/w @ 13/2 (Bet365, 6/1 Ladbrokes, Coral)