O'Brien mare can prove Ace in pack at Newbury
The mares' novices' handicap hurdle final at Newbury has never been an easy race to solve, and this afternoon's 15-runner riddle is fully in keeping with that tradition.
With half-a-dozen of the field competing from out of the handicap proper, the two-mile-five-furlong contest is even more complex than it might have been.
Of those six, Kim Bailey's Molly's A Diva is interesting at odds of around 33/1 as she is surely better than her current rating of 115 suggests.
She completed a bumper treble in the Listed race at Sandown this time last year, but has just a game dead-heat victory to her name from five tries over flights so far.
At Ludlow last time, she didn't stay three miles, so reverting to the trip over which she won at Warwick in December should suit.
In a first-time visor off an effective mark of 125 for 10st 4lb, Molly's A Diva isn't without a chance of a place under Nick Scholfield.
Further up the page, Bailey's Mrs Peachey looks more exposed, but Toubeera, Massannie and Fairytale Theatre all bring a touch of quality to the table. On good ground, Massanie could figure for the in-form David Pipe-Tom Scudamore axis. A daughter of Bathwick Annie, a five-time chase winner that landed a decent race at this Berkshire venue in 2003, Massannie racked up a hat-trick over hurdles on fast going last summer.
She is 13lb better off with Toubeera now than when second to the top-weight on her January reappearance in deep ground at Plumpton, while she also filled the runner-up berth behind Bobble Boru at Exeter recently.
On both occasions, Massannie looked temperamental, though she will be more suited by a strong gallop here than the farcical pace of those two small-field contests.
Still, she is hardly one to trust, and a far more attractive option is Fergal O'Brien's Down Ace. A Ballinaboola point-to-point winner for Ross O'Sullivan just over a year ago, the daughter of Generous promptly made a successful track debut in a Cheltenham bumper last spring, before extending her winning run to six with three hurdle victories on testing ground in November and December.
She was pitched in against Quevega and Co in the mares' race at Cheltenham, but never looked at ease on ground that rode quite quick.
Down Ace now reverts to more modest company off a mark of 128 for 10st 9lb, which is reduced by 7lb when you factor in the claim of Ally Stirling, a respected amateur who boasts a strike-rate of 4-13 for O'Brien in the past two seasons.
That makes Down Ace an appealing proposition at up to 12/1, odds that would seem even more generous if the drop of rain that is forecast for the Newbury area materialises.
In the preceding two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase, Tara Rose can continue Nigel Twiston-Davies' purple patch.
Successful off 113 and 119 this time last year, Tara Rose was a fine second off 123 on her return at Wetherby in October, before then struggling off 126 in better company. Dropped to 125 last time, she ran nicely to be fourth behind Shangani in the Greatwood Gold Cup on unsuitably heavy going.
Despite that encouraging turn, Tara Rose has fallen another 2lb to the rating that she ran so well off at Wetherby.
Combined with the return to a better surface, that gives her a serious chance of getting back to winning ways under the trainer's son, Sam.
Later on, Longford-based Paul Flynn will saddle Seeyouallincoppers in the juvenile handicap hurdle. This is the sort of race that wouldn't normally appeal for betting purposes, but Flynn's cross-channel runners always do themselves justice, so this fellow is of interest under Barry Geraghty.
Successful on fast ground on his jumping bow at Roscommon in August, Seeyouallincoppers finished third behind the Grade One-winning Triumph Hurdle third Guitar Pete and Lindenhurst when conceding weight at Listowel. He chased home the same two horses at Gowran Park on his only subsequent start in October, so he is fancied to prove a real handicap snip here off just 119.
Best Bet: Tara Rose