Plenty of action over jumps and on the Flat this Saturday afternoon. The Scottish Grand National takes place at Ayr, while Newbury stages the first serious Classic trials of the new term.
The Roger Varian-trained Defoe is favourite to land the John Porter Stakes for the second year running but looks threatened by Young Rascal for William Haggas and James Doyle.
Young Rascal won four from five starts last year, his only setback being in the Epsom Derby, where he didn’t relish the track.
Three of his four wins came around Newbury, including over C&D, and he should relish being back here, having dead-heated for a Group 3 prize in the autumn when last spotted.
Young Rascal has scope for more progress as a four-year-old and could well turn into a Group 1 performer this summer. Defoe is a likeable and reliable sort although he’s so far prove just shy of the top level and is unlikely to bring anything new to the table this term. He sets he benchmark but may find it comes up just shy now.
Nicky Henderson will be bidding to end a 33-year wait for success in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr, where the Master of Seven Barrows is ready to launch a triple threat on the prestigious handicap with Verdana Blue, Mister Fisher and Brain Power.
The mare won the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton but was beaten in this race last year. Mister Fisher, meanwhile, will look to build on an encouraging run in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham last month but faces experienced and hardened rivals.
Verdana Blue (fifth) and Brain Power (pulled up) are both attempting to bounce back the Champion Hurdle in the Cotswolds.
The latter really wouldn’t have relished the softer ground there and, having won the Grade 2 International Hurdle previously, is fancied to bounce back in handicap company off a mark of 153.
He’s got an excellent strike rate over hurdles (5-11) and represents some value at the prices with this track to suit.
With all the afternoon action, punters might need some get-out clauses at Wolverhampton in the evening and the Ed Dunlop-trained Gottardo looks the way to go.
He made a winning start for this trainer last month at Chelmsford and came in for strong market support before doing so. That was in an Amateur Riders’ Handicap and Sophie Smith stays on board as he goes for another Class 5 race of the same nature here.
He came from off a decent pace last time, getting up late under hands and heels riding, and has gone up a single pound for his narrow win. Based on the form he showed in handicaps last year for Fozzy Stack in Ireland, the follow up is well within his compass on these terms.