Finals Day of the Challenger Series takes place today at Haydock and 6 fiercely competitive handicaps are on offer for jumping fans. Qualifiers for today’s fest have been spread over 35 different racecourses throughout the season and resulted in potentially a great day of racing for horses rated 135 or less.
The Middle Distance Handicap at 2.05 kicks off the proceedings, with 12 going to post over 2m4f on what should be perfect jumping ground.
Favourite for this is last year’s winner Ballybolley, which competes off 4lbs higher than last year, but has not really been in the same form of late, so that’s the first swerve.
Tom George runs three and the early money is for the JP McManus-owned Cernunnos, the mount of Barry Geraghty. This 7-y-o has always promised more than it has achieved and a hood is employed to try to eke out the latent talent that is in there somewhere. A safer proposition, with the stable jockey aboard, is the top weight Some Buckle, which makes a lot of appeal each way at around 6-1 (10Bet).
This 8-y-o tuned up for this with a facile victory at Stratford and competes off just 6lbs higher this afternoon. With the ground to suit and clearly aimed at this race, Some Buckle can get us off to a flying start.
Another chase follows at 2.40, this time over 3 miles and we suggest doubling up in this 14 runner jobby, with each way bets on Shanroe Santos (improver) at 7-1 (Coral) and Fort Worth (consistent) at 8-1 (bet365).
The 3.15 is a two mile handicap hurdle and the favourite for this is another JP horse, this time trained by Alan King, in the shape of Midnight Maestro. Up 7 lbs for winning an average looking race at Stratford last time out, this 5-y-o does not look too well handicapped in a race of this nature.
One that could run a huge race at attractive odds is the Nicky Richards’ trained Caius Marcus, which stayed on takingly at Wetherby last month to win going away. Open to any amount of improvement, Craig Nichol’s mount should be backed each way at 14-1 (BetVictor).
The 3.50 is the Mares’ Hurdle Final over 2.3f and just to prove we do sometimes recommend favourites, we are going ‘all in’ on Secret Door at 7-2 (William Hill). This Harry Fry trained 6-y-o came back from a year off to sluice home in a Ludlow handicap off 109 and surely, surely is potentially much better than the paltry 115 she competes off today. Boot filling is recommended.
During the 4.20, the Stayers Hurdle Final I will be having a lie down as it looks an impossible puzzle, but I’ll be up and about in time to have a small e/w investment on Magic Money at 9-1 (Betfred) in the Mares Chase Final at 4.55. Getting a handicap mark by running in Listed non-handicaps with no hope of winning is an interesting idea, and Warren Greatrex proved the point when Magic Money did the biz at Fontwell last month off a mark of 114. Just 3lbs higher today and with Harry Bannister on board again, the double is on the cards.
The day closes, for some reason, with an ‘ordinary’ handicap chase, nothing to do with the Challenger series and I haven’t a Scooby what’s going to win it.
P.S. One of my own horses runs today; Assanilka 4.15 Kempton. Trained by Harry Dunlop. Makes her seasonal reappearance in this conditions race under Richard Kingscote who won a maiden on her over C/D in Oct16. She has wintered well and although this is a step up in grade we are hoping she can run a massive race.