Freedom holds real value in tight affair
When snow and frost take hold in Britain, Scotland often tends to be worst affected, so it is unusual that Musselburgh would be the sole jumps track to beat the elements.
However, ever since the suburban Edinburgh venue announced plans to stage today's unscheduled fixture last Tuesday, it sounded like it was the only one with any real chance of going ahead.
Sure enough, yesterday's abandonment of Newbury's big card means that terrestrial television viewers will rely on Musselburgh for their fix of jumping activity, and credit to all involved for salvaging a pretty decent spread.
The John Smith's County Hurdle is an immensely competitive heat, with a stack of in-form handicappers among the 13-strong field. Ingleby Spirit, trained by Wexford native Richard Fahey, was shading favouritism at around 6/1 yesterday evening.
A dual course winner that races close to the pace, that one's style of racing suits the speed demands of Musselburgh, but the handicapper hasn't taken any chances by allotting him a first-time mark of 134.
Brian Ellison's front-running Dontpaytheferryman is also two-from-two here, and traded at up to 10/1 last night. Having won a handicap last time, his form is slightly easier to assess. With an eight-pound penalty, you certainly couldn't rule him out of making the frame.
The best value option, though, is John Ferguson's Cry Of Freedom. Rated as high as 95 on the Flat, the Street Cry gelding scored over hurdles at the first time of asking at Huntingdon in November, before getting brought down early on next time.
On his only subsequent start back at Huntingdon a fortnight ago, Cry Of Freedom chased the front-running winner Ile De Re all the way under Jack Quinlan, but the effects of his tumble were evident, as mistakes cost him any chance of victory. Still, he wasn't beaten far, and they drew a long way clear of the remainder.
All told, the front pair looked pretty smart, so a first-time mark of 125 may not be insurmountable for a horse that was available at up to 12/1 yesterday. Ferguson, whose 18 winners this term returns a mammoth 38pc yield, has two other serious chances.
In the Scottish Triumph Hurdle, he saddles the former John Oxx representative Creekside, which won in facile style on its Catterick jumping bow. There are a few others in this with claims, but it's hard to get away from Creekside.
While he is a horse that never quite fulfilled his potential at Oxx's, he always had a touch of class, and simply looked more of a late bloomer than anything else.
Cape Dutch, second to Paul Nicholls' Edgardo Sol at Cheltenham last time, should also go close for Ferguson in the concluding handicap hurdle, but preferred here is Mark Johnston's Bowdler's Magic.
Richie McGrath's mount improved from an indifferent first try at hurdling to be second to Ingleby Spirit here before Christmas.
When Bowdler's Magic returned last month, he rallied gamely to be beaten just a quarter of a length, after making most in another two-mile maiden.
Having won over as far as a mile and six furlongs on the level, that was a performance that confirmed he would be better over further, so today's step-up to two and a half could be key. What's more, a rating of 118 is lenient, given Ingleby Spirit's mark.
The Scottish Champion Chase is another well-contested handicap. Denis O'Regan might be the man to keep on side in this, as his partner Ultimate is unexposed.
A comprehensive winner from Australia Day earlier in the season, Ultimate wasn't disgraced when 10th in the Greatwood Hurdle, before being outclassed behind Al Ferof back over fences at Sandown.
Second then to Skint on slower than ideal going at Bangor, he should go close off a first-time mark of 134 on drier ground.
Best Bet: Creekside