Thursday 22 February 2018

Beau Bai ready to trump Poker

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

WITH today's Ascot card abandoned yesterday, Haydock is the sole remaining hope for jump racing in England this afternoon, though the course must pass a morning inspection if the fixture is to prevail.

The feature at the Liverpool venue is the Maxilead Metals Tommy Whittle Chase, a three-mile handicap that sees the return of the Poker De Sivola, the horse on which Nina Carberry won the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March.

Ferdy Murphy's representative won't be without a chance, but this is highly competitive and it's likely that Poker De Sivola will have more pressing engagements later in the season.

Others to consider are Buffalo Bob from the in-form Kim Bailey stable, and David Pipe's Junior. That one ran an eye-catching race when third to Midnight Legend at Cheltenham a month ago, form that gives him every chance now.

Preferred, however, is Richard Lee's Le Beau Bai, a horse that progressed brilliantly throughout last season but which has yet to hit peak form this time around. Twice a winner in his second term over fences, Le Beau Bai finished third in the Welsh National off 143 this time last year, and it's of note that his finest effort came at Haydock in February.

Off a mark of 148 in the Blue Square Gold Cup on that occasion, the seven-year-old was third behind Silver By Nature and Our Vic, two solid yardsticks. He subsequently showed the effects of a long season when pulled up at Uttoxeter in March, but he looks to be finding his form again now.

While Le Beau Bai clearly needed the run on his reappearance at Chepstow, he stripped fitter on reverting to hurdles at Exeter last time. Under today's claiming rider, he showed much of his old spark to stay on for second, and it would be no surprise to see him build on that now that he returns to chasing.

Crucially, Le Beau Bai's two indifferent outings over fences have seen his handicap mark fall to 139, the mark off which he won by 21 lengths at Chepstow 12 months ago. At around 8/1, he is value to recapture that level of performance once again.

Elsewhere in England, the all-weather meeting at Southwell is the only fixture of the day that seems certain to get the all-clear. The Totepool A Better Way To Bet Handicap over seven furlongs is the best race on the Lincolnshire venue's card.

Jim Boyle's Seek The Fair Land, placed on its last four all-weather starts, is the horse to beat, but he has crept up 5lb for those efforts and will need a career-best if he is to defy that hike now. Sioux Rising is a reasonable alternative at around 6/1.

While Richard Fahey's four-year-old has had a busy season, he remains consistent, and his two most recent efforts at Lingfield were arguably his best. He finished a good second on both occasions, bettered only by the heavily backed Secret Asset last week, a horse that had been placed in Group company this summer.

In the preceding six-furlong handicap, Johannesgray appeals for Dandy Nicholls. A maiden winner in April, Johannesgray benefited from the application of an eye shield and blinkers at Southwell last time, finishing strongly to be third over five furlongs.

He steps back up to six now, the trip over which he has shown his best form, and the handicapper has given him a chance by leaving him unchanged. When you factor in Billy Cray's 5lb claim, Johannesgray looks an extremely solid proposition.

Nicholls and Cray could get their day off to the best possible start in the opening nursery. Thursday's course winner Je Suis Unrockstar goes the opposite way to Johannesgray in terms of trip, but he has looked very authoritative in winning his last two, and a 6lb penalty may not be enough to slow him.

Best bet: Johannesgray

Irish Independent

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