Racing all goes a bit quiet at this time of year as everybody takes deep breaths before Cheltenham erupts on 11 March. Most will have completed on-course preparations by now and anyway, Kempton, sharp and right-handed, is not an obvious last-stop testing ground for the Festival.
But recent history shows that it is as well to pay close attention to at least one race on this afternoon’s card. The Adonis Hurdle is a late trial for the Triumph Hurdle and three of the last nine winners have done the double, most recently Zarkandar in 2011.
Nothing jumps off the page in this afternoon’s renewal, but the juvenile hurdling division has yet to throw up anything outstanding this winter and it would not require a brilliant performance to shake up a dormant ante-post market.
Alcala has shown enough promise in France to warrant the respect always afforded a Paul Nicholls hurdles debutant, but one suspects that he would be shorter than 33-1 for the Triumph if he had been blowing away his galloping companions in Somerset.
Activial (2.05 Kempton) makes more appeal. Harry Fry’s grey, a bumper winner in France, shaped with great promise when runner-up to Alcala’s stablemate Calipto at Newbury in November and that winner is now second favourite for the Triumph after going in again at the Berkshire track.
Whatever happens to Alcala, Nicholls will be mortified if Irving (3.15 Kempton), a worthy second favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham after winning three from three, each time more impressively, does not dispose of apparently inferior rivals in the Dovecote.
Festival morale in Ditcheat will be boosted further if Nicholls can plunder the £100,000 Betbright Chase with one of his three declared, Bury Parade, Grandioso or Jump City.
Bury Parade (3.50 Kempton) did not endear himself to punters when digging his toes in at the start at Exeter in December, but the subsequent fitting of a hood at Ascot had the desired effect and he duly bolted up from Grandioso.
This is a smart chaser, albeit with a quirk, and he might well follow up off this 9lb stiffer mark. It may, though, be worth having an each-way saver at 25-1 on Bally Legend, perhaps better at short of three miles, but a sound jumper with a good record at Kempton.
There’s stamina and there’s stamina and nowhere will it be needed more than at Newcastle, where an army of plodders will grind it out over four miles plus on heavy ground in the Eider Chase.
Our Island and Smoking Aces, two of the market leaders, are well equipped for the test, but they, like most of the opposition, are pretty hit-and-miss performers you could never trust implicitly.
So it might make sense to have a bit each-way on Junior (2.55 Newcastle) at 20-1. David Pipe’s top weight is not the player he was when winning at Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival in his pomp, but recent efforts suggest there might be one last hurrah in the old boy.
On the Flat, the globetrotting Grandeur (3.30 Lingfield) looks a cut above the rest in the Winter Derby Trial, while Hawkeyethenoo (1.45 Lingfield) could be the answer to the Cleves Stakes, although he does need everything to fall right.
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