Sarde to prove worth for Bailey
Kim Bailey's resurgence may have eased a little recently, but the Gloucestershire handler could find himself back in the spotlight at Haydock this afternoon.
Having endured a desperate time of things for most of the last decade, Bailey has enjoyed a return to something close to his former strength this term. With 32 winners on the board, he has already recorded his best seasonal tally for nine years, though he has yet to get off the mark this month.
Sarde may well be the one to regain the winning thread for him in the totesport.com Grand National Trial. The three-and-a-half-mile handicap chase has many familiar names in its 14-strong field, with West End Rocker and King Fontaine likely to be among the most popular choices.
Both of these come here in a rich vein of form, but 8lb and 15lb hikes respectively for their latest wins makes this tough. Sarde also heads for the Liverpool venue at the top of his game, having won his last two outings and three of his last four.
However, he doesn't appear to have been nearly as harshly treated by the handicapper. In all, Sarde has gone up 10lbs for his two latest triumphs, receiving 5lbs each time. Given his profile, that doesn't look overly punitive.
He is a hugely progressive horse with just seven runs to his name over fences and he is clearly improving.
On his only two starts this season, he was impressive under today's rider Sean Quinlan at Market Rasen, before relishing all of the three-and-a-quarter-mile trip when stepped up in distance at Newbury. Both those wins came in November, with Bailey opting to give his French-bred a break since, a wise move given that he has just turned seven.
In the context of today's race, Sarde's most recent defeat, on his final start last term, is also relevant, as he is now a massive 22lbs better off with King Fontaine, which beat him 10 lengths then.
All told, with a negligible 10st 4lb on his back, Sarde looks overpriced at 12/1. The main doubt surrounding him would be that he is still unproven on the prevailing heavy ground, but he has run respectably in similar conditions before.
Further south at Ascot, Riverside Theatre takes his chance in the Betfair Ascot Chase.
Nicky Henderson's charge was fancied to land the Aon Chase at Newbury last week before it was postponed and he looks the horse to beat again today.
Pride Of Dulcote and Tartak are both in form coming into this, but neither is expected to have the selection's class. Riverside Theatre managed to split Long Run and Kauto Star on his latest outing in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. That is top-drawer stuff and, with just six runs over fences to his name, he can still improve.
In the handicap chase that precedes the feature, Carrickmines gets the nod to follow up his emphatic win last week. Third to Sarde at Newbury in November, the Saddler's Hall gelding was hugely impressive when scoring by 15 lengths at Kempton eight days ago, paying Sarde a fair compliment in the process.
Carrickmines went up 9lbs for that, but is actually 11lbs worse off here, as he must compete from 2lbs out of the handicap.
With that in mind, it is of note that his handler Richard Newland has elected to turn him out. Having twice run up sequences in the past, it may be that he is a horse to keep on side when he hits form.
Also, Drill Sergeant appeals as a solid each-way option in the handicap hurdle. A quirky sort that won despite pulling himself up under Tony McCoy at Haydock in October, Drill Sergeant caught the eye on his handicap debut in the Lanzarote Hurdle.
That was a competitive race, but he was bang there until a mistake at the second-last knocked him back. He is unexposed, has a useful 7lb claimer up and will benefit here from the two-furlong drop in trip to two miles and three furlongs.
Best bet: Riverside Theatre