The Midlands Grand National, the feature race on the most important afternoon of the year at Uttoxeter, is the first of them, a four-mile-two-furlong slog which never seems to pass without incident. The morning favourites are Young Kenny and Sparkling Cone, both of whom won well last time, while the Irish, who have a good record in the race, are represented by Hollybank Buck, who won the Eider Chase at Newcastle last month, and Brian's Delight.
Young Kenny will probably start favourite, thanks to his easy win from well out of the handicap in the Greenalls Gold Cup at Haydock. The ground that day was unusually testing, however, and while there should be a little cut in the turf at Uttoxeter this afternoon, it may not be quite enough to bring out the best in Young Kenny.
The worry about Sparkling Cone is that this race comes just 17 days after his latest outing, given that a slightly shorter break between his first and second outings this year saw him run poorly after a winning seasonal debut. The fact that he is trained by Venetia Williams almost cancels the doubts, but it is still a big chance to take at such short odds.
Hollybank Buck is a fair price, but makes the odd mistake, and an alternative is Cavalero (next best 2.20). On the book, he has little chance of reversing Haydock form with Young Kenny, even on 18lb better terms, but he still ran well to finish fifth there and today's trip, an extra six furlongs, could make a big difference. It is the sort of test which Cavalero should relish, which would make morning odds of 11-1 with Coral and Ladbrokes look very generous.
The supporting card at Uttoxeter is not all that it might be, with Just Jasmine (1.15) the choice almost by default in the valuable mares' novices' chase, and Radiation (1.45) probably the best value, at 11-1 with Ladbrokes, among the nine remaining runners from 31 entries for the handicap chase.
This leaves the Winter Derby, on the all-weather surface at Lingfield, as the second-best betting event of the day, though Karl Burke has done his best to turn it into a private sweepstake, saddling five of the 14 runners.
Burke is one of the sharpest young trainers in the country, and also one of the few to fully exploit the opportunities offered by all-weather racing. This means that several of his horses had the necessary handicap mark to run in the race, and with pounds 50,000 in the purse, it would have been silly not to.
He may still not send out the favourite, though, since Refuse To Lose, a former Hunt Cup winner, has done enough this winter to head the market. In an open race, though, Burke feels that Pas De Memoires and Steamroller Stanly (4.10) offer his best chance of success, and it is the latter, who finished fifth last year when trained by Charles Cyzer, who is just the more attractive at odds of 7-1 with Ladbrokes.
The rest of the Lingfield card is over the obstacles, and the only name to stand out is Warm Spell (3.40). Gary Moore's veteran ran as if he had one more victory in him at Towcester nine days ago, and if anyone can coax it out, it is surely Tony McCoy.
Nap: Forest Ivory
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