Uttoxeter valiantly flies the flag for the jumps on Saturday as the new turf Flat season pokes its unwelcome nose into the weekend with the Lincoln meeting at Doncaster. In the opener at the Staffordshire course (1.35), Nicky Henderson introduces a tantalising future jumps prospect in Peggy Do, who should be too good for her eight rivals in the conditional jockeys’ maiden hurdle.
The vagaries of race planning have never been more evident than in the staging of today’s two jumps fixtures at Wetherby and Newcastle. Quite why we need two identical meetings in the north on a Friday is a mystery but there we are, and maybe Neil Mulholland can land the Wetherby bumper (4.30) with the well-regarded Shantou Village.
Small can sometimes be profitable on the jumps at this time of year as plenty of the spring handicaps lack the competitiveness of the mid-winter programme, and that looks to be the case for Tambura, who holds a decent chance in the three-mile contest (2.40) at Ffos Las on Thursday.
Newton Abbot stages Britain’s sole jumps meeting on Wednesday and the novice hurdle (2.40) has attracted a quality field of eight runners. Otago Trail is sure to start favourite for Venetia Williams but could be vulnerable on less testing ground and a chance is taken on Earthmoves bouncing back to form for champion trainer, Paul Nicholls.
The news that champion trainer Paul Nicholls will not saddle a single runner over jumps on Saturday tells us all we need to know about the meagre fare currently being served up in the lull between the Cheltenham and Aintree spring festivals. It’s a similar story at Hexham and Southwell on Tuesday, and maybe Cyrius Darius can score again for Malcolm Jefferson at the former venue.
The arrival of spring usually heralds the appearance of Sam Waley-Cohen on board any number of well-fancied horses at the big spring festivals, and the leading amateur rider takes one such ride in the shape of Makadamia, a well-regarded mare who looks the most likely winner of the novices’ handicap chase (3.20) at Taunton on Monday.
Newbury’s Saturday card has to be the least appealing of all the jumps fixtures held at the Berkshire course, featuring a truly unfathomable mares’ hurdle final which is never my cup of tea, chucking in a series of tricky handicaps for punters to fritter away Cheltenham winnings and slipping in a valuable bumper (4.20) just for good measure.
Friday’s jumps action is at least a notch or two above the dreary fare that has dominated this week's post-Cheltenham landscape, and because there is racing at Newbury that can mean only one thing – a strong Nicky Henderson fancy in the novices’ hurdle (2.10) courtesy of Champagne Express, an easy winner at Chepstow last month on his debut for Seven Barrows,
Haydock’s jumps track keeps getting it in the neck from misfiring northern trainers but good horses still manage to score at the Lancashire venue, and the well handicapped A Boy Named Suzi can land the handicap hurdle (2.10) that opens the course’s six-race card on Wednesday.
The handicap hurdle at Exeter (2.45) on Tuesday has drawn a competitive field, and perhaps the lightly-raced Rafafie can land the spoils for trainer, Sue Gardner, who has made a habit of winning races at her local course from just a small string of horses.