Blades can push rivals over edge
The ongoing decimation of the jumps programme continues this afternoon, with four all-weather meetings across Ireland and England all that remain for punters to choose from.
On the domestic front, credit must go to Horse Racing Ireland for doing everything within their powers to reschedule the fallen cards, and also for ensuring that today wasn't left blank by adding a new Dundalk fixture. By the same token, though, were the big freeze to continue beyond next week, or should another take hold thereafter, the governing body will find it increasingly difficult to justify a policy that sees the only all-weather venue in the country lie idle during the winter months.
Of the day's cross-channel events, the William Hill Home Of Betting Handicap at Kempton is the best race of the day. A field of 12 will go to post for the seven-furlong contest, with the in-demand George Baker, who heads the all-weather jockeys' championship, due to partner the likely favourite Mia's Boy.
While that one certainly has its chance, preference is for Autumn Blades, which would represent decent value at the forecast odds of 7/1. Having lost his form on the turf after winning at Chester in May, the Alan Bailey-trained five-year-old was given a break, and he has returned with some encouraging efforts on the all-weather.
In two outings over today's trip at Lingfield in November, he recorded solid efforts to be second and third, before disappointing when stepped up to a mile here last time. Having also stepped up in grade to Listed company on that occasion, Autumn Blades can be excused the blip, and a reproduction of his previous two efforts would probably be good enough now.
On the first of those, he failed by only a fast-diminishing short-head, and he was again unlucky when third subsequently. Under today's jockey David Probert then, he got badly caught for room turning in, and did well to be beaten less than a length in the end. If Autumn Blades enjoys a bit more luck now, he should go very close.
The feature at Southwell, the Totepool A Better Way To Bet Handicap, is next best in terms of quality today. Eleven are set to do battle in the six-furlong heat, with the field headed by the former Michael Grassick-trained 10-year-old Hard Rock City.
An eight-time winner during his time here, the son of Danzig makes his debut for Declan Carroll's stable now, but he is going to have his work cut out under his big weight. Richard Fahey's Mister Laurel may be the one to side with.
Successful over today's trip at Wolverhampton in October, the four-year-old went on to be second over seven furlongs at Doncaster, before finishing seventh over seven at Lingfield last week. Notwithstanding his Doncaster performance, when he was well held, Mister Laurel's best form is over six, so the return to this trip will stand to him.
Earlier, Kingaroo ought to take the beating in the 14-furlong handicap. A dual winner over 12 furlongs at the Lincolnshire venue in November, the King Charlemagne gelding is an out-and-out stayer that will improve for the step up in distance.
While he was beaten into third last time, Kingaroo is a front-runner that takes a bit of knowing, so he may not have been at his best under a new jockey that day. Billy Cray, the apprentice who partnered him to his November wins, is back in the saddle here.
In the five-furlong juvenile maiden that gets proceedings under way, Verus Decorus can build on a promising debut that saw him finish fourth over course and distance a month ago. Having raced from a wide draw down the slow side of the track on that occasion, today's low draw is much more favourable.
Best bet: Mister Laurel