Al Qeddaaf looks to be class apart
Donald McCain and Jason Maguire, having started the new National Hunt season as well as they finished the last, are fancied to land a double at Market Rasen tomorrow.
Both men are riding high in their respective title races, and Al Qeddaaf can keep the momentum going in the opening Journal Maiden Hurdle.
Generally speaking, four-year-olds struggle against their elders at such an early point in the year. In tomorrow's two-mile-one-furlong event, just three of the 14-strong field are of the juvenile division, one of which is Al Qeddaaf.
However, this is as poor a race as the Alhaarth gelding has ever contested over flights, and he ought to win if he performs to his optimum level. Rubipresent, which was second to a horse that has since won again at Perth in April, is the best of the remainder.
Lightly raced, Rubipresent has clearly had its problems. With that in mind, Malcom Jefferson's runner has scope to improve, but he is still unlikely to have Al Qeddaaf's quality.
On soft ground through the winter, a couple of placed efforts were the best Al Qeddaaf could muster.
While he didn't win, the standard of races he contested was decent, and drier ground brought out the best in him when it eventually came.
Stepped up to Grade One company at Aintree in April, Al Qeddaaf ran admirably to take fifth, just three places behind the subsequent Punchestown Grade One winner Barizan.
While he was then beaten at odds-on at Kelso, he lost little in defeat. The horse that finished in front of him, Saveiro, had been running to a similar level and was due a win; the pair came 28 lengths clear of the remainder.
With his favoured good going set to prevail, Al Qeddaaf ought to collect if he can reproduce that kind of form.
Later on, Our Jim can complete a brace for the in-form partnership in the Fussey Piling Handicap Chase. This is far more competitive, with two recent winners among the 14 runners.
Nonetheless, Our Jim, which won on its only start at the course three years ago, is taken to make the most a drop in grade. A winner this time 12 months ago, the eight-year-old will be better for his first two runs since then.