There are two Grade 2 contests at Wincanton on Saturday and, in the extended 1m 7f Elite Hurdle (15:00), Fusil Raffles is fancied to build on his impressive juvenile campaign.
Trained by Nicky Henderson, who won this with Verdana Blue last year, the four-year-old son of Saint Des Saints joined the Seven Barrows handler after winning one of two starts in France.
Such was the confidence in Fusil Raffles that the Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned gelding was pitched straight into Grade 2 company at Kempton.
The Adonis Juvenile Hurdle is a key trial for four-year-old races at the spring festivals and he bolted up by nine lengths.
Although Fusil Raffles now meets the re-opposing runner-up Beat The Judge off 6lb worse terms, the way he drew right away from the last suggests the swing in weight isn’t enough to reverse form.
A slight setback then caused connections to skip the Cheltenham Festival and aim him at Punchestown instead.
Grade 1 glory followed for Fusil Raffles when jockey Daryl Jacob only had to ride him clear on the run-in for a 2 3/4 lengths success.
Both the runner-up and third home had won Grade 2 contests earlier in the year, so that gives the form a solid look.
As Fusil Raffles is so lightly-raced and open to any amount of further improvement, he can’t be opposed here.
Another plus is that he only carries a half penalty for that Grade 1 success. That puts Fusil Raffles 3lb well-in on fellow joint top-rated Elite Hurdle horse Grand Sancy.
With race terms in his favour, and the Henderson yard on a 25 per cent strike rate in the last fortnight at the time of writing, Fusil Raffles is 4/7 with Bethard to make a winning return.
Grand Sancy still respected in Elite Hurdle
Ditcheat handler Paul Nicholls has won the race seven times before. The aforementioned Grand Sancy is one of two in the race for him and has course figures of 2211.
After going without victory in his juvenile campaign, a breathing operation worked wonders for this five-year-old last season.
Grand Sancy scored on reappearance at Chepstow before chasing home Itchy Feet in a Kempton Listed affair.
That form is good as the winner was third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Having previously chased home Acey Milan in a bumper and Jurby in a novice hurdle here, Grand Sancy then made it third time lucky at Wincanton.
He followed-up on that with victory in a Listed contest on Betfair Chase day at Haydock. Grand Sancy was far from disgraced back in handicap company when a six-length fourth in an Ascot Grade 3.
A massive effort when just outpaced close home and beaten half-a-length by Elixir De Nutz in the Grade 1 Tolworth at Sandown saw him pitched into the Kingwell Hurdle over course and distance in February.
Grand Sancy kept on gamely to hold subsequent Champion Chase third Sceau Royal by three-quarters of a length.
That memorable Grade 2 victory in open company sees him give weight all-round here, however. Although then down the field in the Supreme, the Diamond Boy gelding still had a fine campaign.
He came to grief when well held at the last in a Listed race at Kempton on reappearance three weeks ago.
Provided he proves no worse for that tumble, Grand Sancy is still the one to give Fusil Raffles most to think about in the Elite Hurdle.
At 4/1 with Boylesports, he is taken on because race terms favour his main market rival but still commands respect.
If You Say Run value for Rising Stars success
British champion trainer Nicholls has dominated the 2m 4f Grade 2 Rising Stars Novices’ Chase (14:25) after saddling 10 previous winners. That makes sole representative If You Say Run of obvious interest.
This seven-year-old mare scored by six lengths on her bow over fences and is an Irish point winner with some useful back hurdles form.
A dual course winner, If You Say Run has also twice placed at this level. In the first of those, she chased home Midnight Tune in the Jane Seymour at Sandown.
She then won a handicap by five lengths on this card 12 months ago. Although then beaten by Mia’s Storm at Kempton, If You Say Run was a fine 4 1/2 length third to Magic Of Light at Ascot.
As the winner went on to chase home Tiger Roll in the Grand National, that is good form.
If You Say Run was unlucky to go down by a neck to Jester jJet when eased in grade to Listed level on her next start.
Although not as a high class a hurdler as some of her rivals here, she made a fine debut in this sphere and gets weight all-round.
Given handler Nicholls’ superb record in the race, If You Say Run looks a value play at odds of 7/2 on offer with BetVictor.
Reserve Tank a clear danger but short price
Colin Tizzard unleashes one of his best novice chase prospects in Reserve Tank, who heads the betting. If coming on for his reappearance run, then the five-year-old is a fearsome rival.
Reserve Tank was a rapidly progressive hurdler last season and was pitched into Grade 1 company off the back of victories in minor events at Sandown and Kempton.
This son of Jeremy belied odds of 20/1 to land the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree by 3 1/4 lengths.
He followed-up on that win another victory at the highest level at the Punchestown Festival.
That gives Reserve Tank leading form claims here, but he was turned over on his chase debut when massively eased in grade at Chepstow last month.
Sent off odds-on for a Listed contest, he took a keen hold and made a mistake at the last when joined.
Reserve Tank didn’t respond to pressure and raced awkwardly thereafter going down 4 1/2 lengths by to Jarveys Plate.
While there is definitely more to come from in this sphere, cramped odds of 5/6 with SportNation aren’t especially appealing here.
If You Say Run gets a 7lb sex allowance against the geldings and that could be a major factor in the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase.
Reserve Tank is entitled to be favourite on what he achieved over timber, but there are reasons to take him on now on the upgrade. He is still respected off a top official rating of 151.
Midnightreferendum appeals most in mares’ handicap on Elite Hurdle day
Elsewhere on Elite Hurdle day, there’s an extended 2m 5f mares’ handicap hurdle in memory of Richard Barber (13:50).
Alan King runner Midnightreferendum appeals more than most after making a winning return to action.
This six-year-old daughter of Midnight Legend has some smart bumper form and won one of her four hurdles starts last season.
After finishing down the field at Chepstow on her hurdle debut and reappearance, she came on for that experience when scoring at Fontwell.
Midnightreferendum raced prominently throughout and closed on the leader going well two out.
After jumping into the lead at the last, she then stayed on well and asserted to score by 3 1/2 lengths from Outofthisworld.
Although now meeting the runner-up off 8lb worse terms, that mare isn’t the more straightforward.
While Midnightreferendum was then tailed off at Newbury and a 7 1/2 lengths fourth at Taunton, she left the impression that she could have plenty to offer in handicaps.
She confirmed that view when scoring by three lengths off 116 at Warwick on reappearance.
After being held-up, Midnightreferendum led approaching two out and stayed on well which suggests the extra couple of furlongs in this should suit.
With just five hurdles starts under her belt, she’s also open to plenty of improvement.
While Midnightreferendum has seen her rating put up 5lb by the assessor, she has a nice racing weight of 10st 9lb and is joint top on Racing Post Ratings for this.
With King’s stable among the winners, there’s plenty to like about her profile now stepping up in class.
Midnightreferendum is solid each-way value at 8/1 with Coral to follow-up on her Warwick win in a typically competitive renewal of this mares’ handicap hurdle.