Ballydub gets chance to showcase true class
Without a winner at Cheltenham during the week, Jessica Harrington sends Badgerlaw to Uttoxeter for a third tilt at the John Smith's Midlands Grand National this afternoon.
A distant runner-up off 135 two years ago, the dour 10-year-old was a well-beaten fifth off a two-pound lower mark 12 months ago.
Badgerlaw gets in today off another pound less than that, and may have his best ever opportunity of landing the race off just 10st 8lb. The son of Accordion was a tidy winner of a handicap hurdle in January, before not disgracing himself when fifth behind War Of Attrition (and yesterday's winner Berties Dream) in a Grade Two at Navan last time.
Reverting to fences over an extreme trip on good ground now, he has a live chance of getting in the shake up, and it wouldn't be the biggest surprise to see Harrington's persistence pay off. However, preferred for the win market is Ballydub, a more progressive type that looks thrown in on his first handicap chase outing.
Twice a winner over hurdles, Ballydub finished second to Punchestowns over flights in October 2008, and he was still in the hunt before falling two out at Cheltenham the following January in a race that was won by no less than Big Buck's. He was subsequently second in a top-class handicap at Sandown off 143.
This season, Philip Hobbs' gelding had an indifferent start to his chasing career, but he has improved to catch the eye on his last two outings. Second in a fair beginners' event at Ludlow, he was then running a big race in a decent novice at Doncaster before a mistake three-out seemed to cost him his chance.
Ballydub soon recovered though, and he was a gaining on the first two on the run to the line, eventually beaten less than two lengths. Today he lines out off 128, 17lbs lower than his career-best over flights, and that is a massive discrepancy for a horse that has plenty scope for further progression at just seven.
With first-time blinkers and a negligible 10st 3lb, Ballydub will take some stopping if he sees out the trip. Inoma James is a second Irish representative, but may need every drop of rain that falls.
The Totejackpot Novices' Handicap Chase is another cracking contest on the Midlands card. Twelve are set to face the starter in this, the vast majority of which have been in good form of late, with five posting a win last time.
Fancied to collect is Buffalo Bob. Although not one of the five winners, Kim Bailey's seven-year-old is an improving type. Victorious on his chasing debut at the course in November, he then put a couple of below par runs behind him to maintain his 100pc record at Uttoxeter when he stepped up to three miles last month.
Buffalo Bob subsequently performed with great credit when only just failing to make all and repel an equally unexposed Sound Stage off a 15lb higher mark at Newbury two weeks ago, drawing 23 lengths clear of the third horse. Back on his favourite track, he can regain the winning thread.
In the Totescoop6 Handicap Hurdle, Gary Moore's Woolfall Treasure is fancied to build on a promising reappearance at Newbury. Third then in a massively competitive handicap on his first run since October and his first over flights since finishing third at Ascot a year ago, this five-year-old has probably been saved for a bit of better ground.
While he has gone up eight pounds for that run, today's going will be ideal, and he could still be slightly ahead of the handicapper. Moore is also well represented in the opening novices' handicap hurdle, but this could go the way of Venetia Williams.
The Herefordshire handler's El Distintivo has performed with credit to be placed in both of its handicap starts to date. With its best effort coming when second in a novices' contest on good ground, El Distintivo can get his head in front now.
Best bet: Woolfall Treasure