Turf Talk: Walk on with hope in your heart

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As a new Dawn Approaches on another National Hunt season one could almost be forgiven for forgetting Jim Bolger’s Guineas winner, such is the building excitement for the winter of jumping in front of us.

Tuesday past saw us commence a 20-week countdown until the start of the Cheltenham festival and, while it may be a bit soon to be looking for pointers for next March, it’s still well worth keeping your eyes peeled as you never quite know where the next new star might appear.

Before any of that though we simply must dot the i’s and cross the t’s from the remainder of the flat season with the final British Group 1 before the winter hibernation, the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster. This mile-long challenge for two year olds is often seen as a key pointer towards the following year’s Derby, with recent winners that went on to taste Epsom glory including Camelot, Authorized and Motivator.

Aidan O’Brien has won three of the last four renewals and the obvious place to start is with his once-raced maiden winner Century. The Baron of Ballydoyle is not adverse to sending maiden winners over for this, so you couldn’t completely put a line through him for lack of experience or form in the book. But with the like of Group One winner Toormore in opposition, backing one purely because it has A. P. O’Brien written next to him on the race card may not be the best option.

Toormore himself brings plenty of form to the race, including when winning readily at the Curragh last time out when he saw off Irish trained challengers Sudirman and Giovanni Boldini in the Group 1 National Stakes. The Hannon charge is bang there at the head of the betting for next year’s 2000 Guineas but the Racing Post Trophy has generally been a better guide to the Derby than the Newmarket classic. With heavy rain forecast for the weekend ahead expected to make it more of a stamina test, his participation would appear unlikely at this stage and so I’ll be looking elsewhere or the winner.

Roger Varian saddles an interesting runner in the form of Kingston Hill. I expected the Mastercraftsman colt to win the Autumn Stakes (the same race that Irish Derby winner Trading Leather won last year) on Future Champions Day at Newmarket and he duly obliged. Connections have since decided to supplement him for this and, with question marks raised against a few of the principals and this lad looking like a potentially smart performer, I think he can make the step up required to land what looks only a moderate renewal.

On Saturday Aintree kick off their jumps season and feature the Monet’s Garden Old Roan Chase. In recent years this has been won by some top class animals, including the loveable old grey himself on three occasions. Dual Ryanair hero Albertas Run and the legendary Kauto Star were also winners.

Unfortunately this year’s list of entries won’t top that bill, but it does include the second from last year’s race, Wishfull Thinking. The Philip Hobbs trained gelding looked to have the world at his hooves at the end of this novice campaign when slamming the very smart Medermit over course and distance. His career has since been blighted by breathing problems and he’s often been hard to get right. At this stage 3/1 seems short enough about such an inconsistent type.

Alan King’s Walkon was often the bridesmaid and never the bride last term, having been seen finishing second on no less than three occasions in hot handicap company. He’s consequently going off a career high mark here, but I’d give him the nod in this given his record coming off a break. He’s only won once over the larger obstacles but during that time has consistently been knocking at the door and I believe this could finally be his chance to shine.

The Tim Vaughan trained Saint Are could be seen as a viable each-way alternative at bigger odds. The son of Network has twice won at the course and finished runner-up once. Although he may prefer more of a trip, a lack of form has seen his handicap mark slip and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get involved in the places.

The final race on the card may only be a modest looking maiden hurdle, but it could offer early festival clues as we see the hurdling debut of Champion Bumper runner-up Regal Encore. Anthony Honeyball’s stable star was no match for Briar Hill in March but he was coming off a break that day and will be one to follow when he takes to timber this winter. He should win on Saturday and hopefully provide a performance worthy a Cheltenham hopeful.

My final selection this week takes us to Wales, where we see another race that often throws up a future star, the Persian War Novices’ Hurdle at Chepstow. Silviniaco Conti, Fingal Bay and Reve De Sivola feature in the winner’s roll of honour. In recent years this has been a Paul Nicholls benefit, with the Ditcheat handler winning four of the last six renewals and he has two entered for this.

In Southfield Theatre, Nicholls possesses a fine yardstick for this, but a better option might be Caesar Milan. The former pointer was picked up this summer following a bumper win at Ayr and he seems to be held in high regard by the yard. The long term plan for him is a to be a staying chaser, much in the same vein as former winner Silviniaco Conti, and this could prove a solid starting point. He could be another to follow in the months ahead.

SATURDAY SELECTIONS

Doncaster

3.50 Kingston Hill

Aintree

3.05 Walkon

3.05 Saint Are(each-way)

5.20 Regal Encore

Chepstow

3.35 Ceasar Milan