Soft going huge plus for Pipe's Consigliere
Jump racing makes a welcome return on both sides of the water today, with Kempton's card offering the most interesting betting heat of the afternoon in the shape of the Williamhill.com Lanzarote Hurdle.
A total of 13 horses will do battle in the two-mile-five-furlong event, which sees Nicky Henderson particularly well represented.
The Lambourn handler has the classy pair Duc De Regniere and Tasheba at the head of the weights. Despite their considerable burdens, neither horse is lightly written off.
Duc De Regniere is well established as one of the best staying hurdlers around, and kept on well to take third behind the indomitable Big Buck's at Newbury last time. Prior to that, the eight-year-old had landed a chase at Kempton over today's trip, proving that he doesn't need three miles to be seen at his best.
The three-year younger Tasheba won a competitive handicap over two miles at Sandown at the beginning of December. Up eight pounds for that now, Barry Geraghty's mount has also run well over this distance in the past, and his stable companion's presence in the field means that he gets in off a reasonable 11st 8lb.
As a five-year-old, Tasheba should continue to progress and is fancied to finish in the first three, but he looks short enough for the win market at around 9/2.
David Pipe's Consigliere may be the one to take on side, having won in good style off today's mark over fences at Newbury in November.
Unraced over flights since arriving at Pipe's from France at the end of 2007, Consigliere was highly progressive last season, winning three before failing to perform on dry ground at Aintree. The seven-year-old put that effort behind him on his reappearance, running well to be third at Cheltenham after a blunder two-out.
He then scored at Newbury and there is no reason to believe that he won't be equally as effective off the same mark over hurdles now. Indeed, having won all his races on soft or heavy ground last year, the fact he will encounter proper soft ground here for the first time this season, is taken to be a huge plus and he looks value at 10/1 with Ladbrokes.
In the novices' handicap chase that precedes the 'Lanzarote,' Ruby Walsh partners Richard Rowe's Lord Appellare. The nine-year-old ran out a facile winner at Huntingdon on St Stephen's Day, but that form doesn't look the most robust and Walsh's presence up top will cause Lord Appellare to trade at an artificially low price.
Preference is for Reblis, a former French hurdle winner that has taken well to chasing and which should trade at around 4/1. In two similar races this season, Gary Moore's charge has jumped with real conviction before finishing second.
He subsequently went up five pounds for each of those efforts, meaning that he has now gone up 10 pounds without winning. However, Reblis must still be open to considerable improvement at just five-years-old, and he looks by some way the most promising prospect in the race.
One other that stands out at Kempton is Mad Max in the novice chase. Unbeaten in four outings prior to coming unstuck behind Mikael D'Haguenet at Cheltenham last March, Mad Max faces just four opponents on his chasing debut.
Nicky Henderson has operated on the horse's wind in the off-season, and it would be no surprise to see him make a winning return to action now. The opposition will be no pushovers, but none of them will match Mad Max for class.
On today's Naas card, recent Thurles bumper winner Cottage Star is taken to trump Cadspeed in the opening maiden, while Telenor gets a tentative vote to defy the hotpot Alpha Ridge in the Woodlands Park 100 Club Novice Chase. Paul Nolan's favourite has had a couple of hard races in defeat and Telenor looked to be going the right way when slogging it out at Navan in December.
Best bet: Mad Max