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Thursday 18 February 2016

Foxes Never Quit !

Racing at Leicester today after the track passed a precautionary inspection at 7.30am this morning and the going is heavy for the six race card.

I've had a few days off writing any posts as I continue my review of the 2015 flat season to seek out some improving talent in the sprint ranks that we can look forward to this summer.

Before that though we have the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown NH festivals and the Grand National is shaping up to be a better race than the Gold Cup!

Paul Nicholls sends one runner to all three tracks staging NH action today at Kelso, Fontwell and Leicester - whilst the Dan Skelton team take a day off from going to the races.

There is also a good card at Meydan today and there is a top class 5f sprint handicap at 5.20 featuring a host of names that we are all very familiar with. There is also racing on the flat in the UK at Chelmsford and Roger Varian sends just One Pekan in order to continue his good run over the winter. He has had strike rates of 29%, 29%, 27% and 44% (ie 4-9 in February so far) since the beginning of November.

Paul Nicholls
Leicester - Heavy
3.55 Stilletto was one of a number of horses sent to the stable over the summer by Roger Brookhouse having been with Philip Hobbs. He returned at Haydock when in need of the outing and finished 3rd behind Rock The Kasbah. He is a big horse not short of ability and he was reported to have needed plenty of work prior to his return. He was then switched to the larger obstacles at Catterick in a Class 4 Beginners chase over 2m 3f on good to soft going and he won the same by one and a quarter lengths from Amore Alato who next time out at Ascot had a Grade 2 novice chase at his mercy when falling at the last fence - the fortunate winner of that was Nicholls Le Mercurey.
Stilletto then went to Newbury on 29/12 for a Class 3 novices limited handicap chase over 2m 92y on soft going where he finished 2nd, beaten 4 lengths, to Violet Dancer in receipt of 8lbs(he has since easily beaten Henderson's L'Ami Serge at Warwick) so the form has stacked up.
Stilletto was very keen at Newbury and he as good as sealed his own fate in being so as he had been travelling all over the well regarded winner up the home straight.
He then ran closer to home at Wincanton in a Class 3 handicap chase over 2m 4f on heavy going. He travelled well throughout and had moved up menacingly to take a narrow lead when falling three fences out when full of running when looking as though he could coast home.
He was a lot calmer at Wincanton so hopefully his trip to Leicester wont have lit him up too much and with the hood on again and 7 other runners you would hope that he should be able to switch off in the early stages of the race. He's still on the same mark of 132c which could turn out to be very fair.
This is his trial for the JLT Chase at the festival and if winning today he will go to Cheltenham with every chance of success there too.

3.05 Unioniste ran in the Grand National last spring and fell at the fifth and he heads there again this season and is set to run off an 8lb lower mark. Prior to last season's National he won a Class 2 handicap Chase at Sandown over 3m on soft off a rating of 148c. He then gave 5lb to Coneygree when beaten at Newbury in the Betfair Denman Chase.
He started this season on 158c and has been dropped to 149c following his runs at Aintree in the Becher Chase, Ascot and most recently Sandown in the Class 2 Betfred Masters handicap chase over 3m on good to soft going where he stayed up the hill for an encouraging run.
As you would expect he needs a strong stamina test and today's 3m 2f 39y on heavy at this track should fit the bill. He had been having a mixture of cheek pieces and tongue strap prior to his run at Sandown where he ran without either and that idea is maintained today.
It's not a handicap and he is reasonably in at the weights with his two main rivals Corrin Wood and Soll so if he can progress further from Sandown he has a fav's chance.

Fontwell - Heavy
2.20 Alcala was a bumper winner in France and he was fourth of eight on his debut in this country in the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle in 2014 behind Activial(OR153), Commisioned(OR154) and stablemate Solar Impulse, He ran just the once last season in a Novice Hurdle and finished 6th of seventeen having choked. He was given a breathing operation thereafter but didn't reappear. He was said to have strengthened up having been given plenty of time when he returned to win in eyecatching style at Worcester in a maiden hurdle over 2m 4f when wearing a first time hood.
He then went to Cheltenham for a Grade 2 novices hurdle over 2m 5f on good going where he finished a running on 4th of the 4 runners a long way behind the impressive winner Shantou Village.
He then went for the Grade 3 fixed brush handicap hurdle at Haydock over 2m 7f on soft for which he had a handicap mark of 126h and he finished an encouraging 4th of 16 runners the race probably having come too soon aftre Cheltenham 8 days earlier.
Next up was his home track Wincanton on boxing day, this was in a PertempsNetwork handicap hurdle qualifier over 2m 5f 82y on soft in which he finished a disappointing 6th of the 10 runners.
He is dropped significantly in distance today in what may be a similar move to that of Rock On Oscar who successfully made all when downed is distance recently for the stable.
This is a NH novices hurdle qualifier in which he wears a first time tongue tie - he last won when wearing a first time hood so may respond again to new equipment.
He's up against a small field and the one I like the look of is Oliver Sherwood's is The Fresh Prince who may offer some value although he is drifting out in the betting.

No bets today on the Nicholls runners as all three are far too short in the betting.