Pickamus looks best of the bunch
Despite there being two National Hunt meetings of real interest in Britain this afternoon, just one jump race from Aintree is scheduled for terrestrial television -- a situation triggered by the BBC's decision to turn its back on the winter pursuit.
The Racing Post Trophy, the last Group One of the Flat season in England, takes centre stage during Channel Four's Doncaster coverage, while four middling Newbury heats complete the programme. Given the quality of fare at Chepstow and Aintree, and the time of year, that's a disappointing state of affairs for jumping fans.
Chepstow's card is particularly appealing. Top of the bill at the Welsh venue is the Totesport Silver Trophy, a handicap hurdle that has gone to some high-class operators in the past, including the reigning Grand National hero Don't Push it in 2007.
On that occasion, Don't Push It was making his seasonal debut having completed a novice chase campaign the previous term. Traditionally, that type of horse does well in this race, with three others winning in similar circumstances since 2000.
The first of those was Young Spartacus, and it is his handler Henry Daly who saddles the most appealing betting option in today's 14-runner race. Pickamus is the Shropshire trainer's only runner on the card and represents value at up to 10/1.
Duke Of Lucca, Sir Harry Ormesher, Restless Harry, Tullamore Dew and Pistolet Noir bring quality form to the table, but Pickamus is a progressive sort that comes here under the radar.
A winner of a maiden hurdle in February 2009, he went on to win three of his four chasing starts last season.
His sole defeat came when he was pitched into handicap company on his second outing, taking fourth in a decent race at Doncaster. He learned quickly, however, winning his next two easily, latterly by a facile eight lengths at Stratford off 130.
Clearly an improver, then, Pickamus's hurdle rating of 126 now looks particularly appealing alongside his revised chase mark of 139. With the trip and ground ideal, and in receipt of weight from all bar one of his opponents, he ought to be thereabouts.
Pickamus' rider Andrew Tinkler is also worth a speculate venture on Cavite Beta in the Persian War Novices' Hurdle. The Barry Connell-owned Frascati Park will be popular in this Grade Two, as will Paul Nicholls' unbeaten Silviniaco Conti.
Philip Hobbs' Captain Chris, a three-time winning hurdler out of the brilliant race mare Function Dream, may be the one they all have to beat, but it is of note that Nicky Henderson asks Cavite Beta to make its hurdling debut at this level. An impressive point-to-point winner in February, the four-year-old Old Vic gelding went on to hose up in a bumper on its first start for Henderson in April.
Cavite Beta's only subsequent outing came at the Punchestown festival, when Katie Walsh performed wonders to finish seventh on him after a slipped saddle ruined their chance. If Cavite Beta enjoys a bit more luck now, he could make amends.
In the three-mile chase at 4.45, Den Of Iniquity gets the nod to defy top weight under Noel Fehily. Although a nine-year-old, Den Of Iniquity is lightly raced and looked to have plenty of life in him when scoring at Newbury on his most recent start last March.
Further north at Aintree, Tartak can take advantage of a turnaround in the weights with his main rivals to take the Old Roan Chase. In the Melling Chase at the course in May, Paddy Brennan's mount met Albertas Run, Monet's Garden and Poquelin off levels, yet he is at least 11lbs better off than that trio now for a five-length defeat.
At Doncaster, Kevin Prendergast could deny Mick Halford a first Group One success when Dunboyne Express and Casamento face off in the main event. While both look to be serious horses, Dunboyne Express may be the fresher of the two.
Best bet: Den Of Iniquity