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National Hunt weekend preview

While the glorious flat races are in the sunshine of Australia and California this weekend, the National Hunt season is properly underway now in the UK. Jack Milner (@jjmsports) exhibits a considerable amount of Yorkshire bias with his desire for soft tracks, the freezing cold and a flat cap.... each to their own! Anyhow, we know he's a talented writer, here's his look at Saturday's feature jumps meetings.

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Looking at the cards for Saturday the message is clear – the jumps are back. We have a terrific spread of cards at Uttoxeter, Ayr, Ascot and a strong renewal of The Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. There may be some two year olds running around a dirt covered oval across the pond, but let’s be honest, the people there would much rather be in wet West Yorkshire seeing some excellent three mile chasers duel out a tough and uncompromising finish!

The Charlie Hall Chase is usually a precursor to bigger races throughout the season, whether it is The Hennessy, The Betfair Chase, The King George, or indeed, the Gold Cup. That notwithstanding, it is still a terrific race, with some tremendous prize money on offer, the Grade 2 contest having £100,000 in the kitty for the six participants, and they will all cover the expenses.

The outsider of the field is Wayward Prince who looks to have it all do to, despite receiving weight all round from the field, and was once a promising novice chaser, with good efforts in the Cheltenham and Aintree’s three mile novice chases. He went off well fancied for The Hennessy last year, but badly disappointed and tailed off towards the end of the season. He has form when fresh, but would be more of a watching brief.

A similar story applies to Planet of Sound, who ran a good second on his seasonal appearance last year in The Hennessy, and then third in a Kempton Grade 3 before completing the Grand National in twelfth place. He looks to be a plodder however, and may be caught wanting in a classy race like this, with his long term aims towards the English and Scottish Nationals.

Midnight Chase is a devout Cheltenham specialist, whose form away from Prestbury Park is often found wanting. His form away from the hallowed grounds in the last two seasons reads F3 – whereas at Cheltenham 111517 – although top rated, he doesn’t appeal to me.

Time for Rupert is an interesting runner for the Paul Webber team, and was a good second here last season. Beaten thirteen lengths behind Midnight Chase last season before travelling well in The Gold Cup before tiring late on, his run suggested that the return to three miles would suit. He goes well fresh, and if the market vibes were supportive, he would be more appealing than the favourite Silviniaco Conti at the prices. He will no doubt go off shorter than he should due to the Walsh/Nicholls Saturday punters tucking into their multiples. His second in The Feltham is the stand out piece of form. But his fourth in the Reynoldstown was highly disappointing. The Aintree novice chase was a nothing event, with Champion Court tiring from his race at Cheltenham, and the rest of the field being simply not good enough.

That leaves MASTER OF THE HALL as the most interesting runner for Nicky Henderson and Andrew Tinkler and looks severely overpriced for my money. I was really impressed by his win at Kelso last March, when albeit beating horses with others targets in mind, but won well, coming away at the finish. He then finished sixth at Aintree, but behind all very good horses, Hunt Ball, Burton Port, Nacarat, Medermit and winner Follow The Plan. He goes well fresh, from an outstanding stable, and at around the 9/1 mark, he looks distinctly overpriced, if Barry Geraghty was on board he would be no doubt half the price.

At the prices, it could be worth a saver on the reverse forecast with Silviniaco Conti, he could be anything, and Paul Nicholls thinks he could be a King George horse, but then again, you rarely see him talk down one of his horses, do you?

The John Smith’s Hurdle race is just as puzzling, and last year’s winner Restless Harry turns out again, although considering his record on good ground, you would assume he would have it all to do under a penalty. Unless however it really threw it down, which being a native of West Yorkshire, I wouldn’t rule out. He comfortably despatched Fair Along last season, and I can see the pair of then being vulnerable to younger rivals. As is Tidal Bay, who looks to have The Grand National and other valuable staying chases as his target, and as such, this will be most likely a tune up for the eleven year old.

Crack Away Jack was highly flattered by finishing second to Big Bucks at Aintree last year, when Restless Harry and Smad Place both came down, leaving the race a pretty much no contest, if it was a boxing match, it would have been a round two knockout for Paul Nicholls’s phenomenal hurdler. Smad Place did go off a well backed second favourite though that day and it is interesting that he is still hurdling, when he looks built to go chasing. The yard is going well, but I have in the back of my mind the idea that this will be used to tee his season up, with the ultimate aim being The RSA Chase at Cheltenham.

A horse who has had a prep to get him cherry ripe for this is CAPE TRIBULATION who loyal followers will have seen me tip up on both his victories at Cheltenham and Aintree festivals last year, in what was a tremendous training performance from Malcolm Jefferson. He was outbattled in an outstanding finish at York three weeks ago over two miles, and on better ground and over three miles, he will take all the beating with Denis O’ Regan back in the plate.

Switching tracks to Ascot, there are a couple of interesting runners that catch the eye, most notably MY TENT OR YOURS in the novice hurdle at 2.00. I backed him in all three bumper runs last season, and the form of his second in the Aintree champion bumper is already working out well with The New One winning a good novice hurdle at Cheltenham two weeks ago. He will appreciate the drop back to two miles, and will have perfect ground to suit. He could eventually shape up to be a horse that has the class for something along the lines of The Supreme Novices Hurdle, he looks to be a Nicky Henderson prototype.

As said previously, the Alan King stable have started off really well this season, and it would be no surprise to see RAYA STAR run a big race in the two mile listed handicap hurdle, with Wayne Hutchinson in the saddle. He had a blinding season, running well behind Rock on Ruby at Newbury, winning the Ladbroke Hurdle, and sealing off his campaign winning the Scottish Champion Hurdle, Scottish National day at Ayr. He goes well fresh, looks well handicapped, has a progressive profile and is likely to be a price due to the fancied runners of Ile De Re and Cape Express.

Ascot 2.00 – My Tent or Yours (Nb)
Ascot 2.35 – Raya Star
Wetherby 2.50 – Cape Tribulation (Nap)
Wetherby 3.25 – Master of the Hall

The Yorkshireman - Jack Milner

Follow me on Twitter - @JJMSports

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