1:50 Optimum Experience Handicap Hurdle 2m 7f 70yds
Serious Charges makes his handicap bow here, and looks to have been laid out for this particular race, so it’s no surprise that he’s already attracted support, but there are plenty of others with form claims, and he looks short enough at the time of writing.
Of those behind the favourite, the one that really catches the eye is Illegal Model, who has been plying his trade over fences without success, but goes back over hurdling and might well benefit from the switch, while he may also do better away from deep winter ground. He represents Charlie Longsdon, who has won this two of the last three years, including with the same owner’s Saint Dalina, last year.
Horses making an immediate return from wind surgery wouldn’t normally have a positive profile from this yard, taking historical results into account, but things have picked up lately, with Longsdon’s last three runners returning from a breathing operation finishing third, second and first. The Stowaway gelding was placed twice over this trip in 2020/21 off much higher marks, and if reacting positively to first-time blinkers, could make a mockery of his reduced mark.
2:25 Trinity Create Novices’ Handicap Chase 3m
There isn’t a great deal of pace in this novices’ handicap chase, and I expect to see Docpickedme to get the easiest of leads under Jonjo O’Neill Jr. If there is a worry about backing him, it’s that Harry Whittington has had a rather quiet season, with just 10 winners, but the fact that this improving six-year-old is responsible for a fifth of that haul surely lessens any concerns, especially as both his wins have come at the tricky Uttoxeter circuit, which doesn’t suit all horses.
Docpickedme has won on both heavy and good to soft ground, and although this represents a rise in class, he looks on an upward curve, and should progress enough again to be a big player.
3:00 Optimum Pay Handicap Hurdle 2m 3f 207yds
I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t get a chance to see the gorgeous Beauport at Cheltenham, but heavy ground at Uttoxeter will suit this nascent chaser, and he looks a cut above his rivals in the Optimum Pay Handicap Hurdle.
Runner-up on all three starts this season, he has shown improved form with each run, and was unlucky to be beaten by the smart Dashel Drasher having conceded that rival a big start at Newbury. He looked sure to take the measure of Green Book at Sandown last time, but having jumped well throughout, he rather fluffed the last two hurdles when half-lengthed by the winner, and again had to settle for minor honours.
Beauport won the EBF Final almost exactly a year ago on similar ground, and while he would be better served by an extra couple of furlongs, this handicap should be run at a contested gallop, which will bring his superior stamina into play.
He’s a horse to look forward to when sent over fences in the autumn, but is certainly deserving of a high-profile win over hurdles given what he’s shown this season, and he’s a confident shout despite having to share top weight with the veteran Ch’tibello.
3:35 Boulton Group Midlands Grand National (Listed) 4m 2f 8yds
Last year’s winner Time To Get Up will have had this as his target for the season, and he’s now tried in headgear, which has helped get more out of stablemates Holywell and Cloth Cap in similar races, but he’s well found in the market for a horse who hasn’t been firing on all cylinders. He can win, but at the prices, I’m prepared to let him.
Truckers Lodge has seven and a half lengths to find with Time To Get Up on last year’s running but unlike that one, the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding comes here off the back of a cracking effort at Ascot where he ran the improving Fortescue close.
He’s 8lb better off with Time To Get Up this time around and that should see him close the gap. Winner of this race two years ago, he’s especially well suited by this type of slog, and is sure to run well assuming the ground doesn’t dry out markedly.
2:05 Virgin Bet Free Bets For Winners Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase 2m
Sebastopol isn’t one for the mortgage given his tendency to finish second, but he can be forgiven a rare poor run on soft ground here on St Stephen’s Day, and Tom Lacey’s son of Fame And Glory can bounce back with the yard in good form.
Second to Third Time Lucki in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham in December, he would have beaten Rockstar Ronnie comfortably over two and a quarter miles here on his penultimate start but for falling with the race at his mercy. He’s worse off at the weights with that rival, but quite well treated on balance, and arguably a bit better than this class.
2:40 Virgin Bet Handicap Hurdle 2m5f
Press Your Luck appreciated the return to good ground when winning an amateurs’ race at Wincanton last time, and Chris Gordon’s seven-year-old has gone up just 2lb for that win over Champagne Court. That looks very generous given the six-length margin of victory, and third-placed Antunes boosted the form with a win last week.
That improved effort is backed up by a good time figure, and Press Your Luck is sure to go well granted the luck in running he needs given his hold-up style.
With plenty of pace in evidence, he should have things run to suit, and rates a fair bet in the circumstances.
3:15 Virgin Bet Handicap Chase 2m 4f 110yds
Up The Straight is a sporting selection to win this handicap chase, with his odds inflated based on a run in atrocious conditions at Sandown last time. That effort is a complete throw-out, and he would have every chance on his third behind Pic D’Orhy in the Grade 2 Noel Novices’ Chase at Ascot in December.
He was a little outclassed there, but he was placed in the Listed Paddy Power Novices’ Handicap Chase at Sandown a year ago off a 7lb higher mark, and won on good ground at Plumpton in October. This is by far his easiest spot since that win, and he looks overpriced at around 11/1.
Docpickedme 2:25 Uttoxeter – 1pt win @ 4/1 (general)
Beauport 3:00 Uttoxeter – 2pts win @ 7/2 (general)
Trucker’s Lodge 3:35 Uttoxeter - 1pt e/w @ 8/1 (BetVictor, Coral – 5 places)
Upthestraight 3:15 Sandown – 1p win @ 11/1 (Hills, BetVictor)