CHAMPION National Hunt trainer Paul Nicholls will team up with his daughter Megan as they look to land their biggest-ever prize together in the November Handicap at Doncaster.
The trainer-jockey family combination ran a blinder to finish fourth with BIRDS OF PREY in the race 12 months ago, behind Royal Line, and the five-year-old returns to Town Moor on the final day of the Flat turf season on the same handicap mark on his favoured soft ground.
Anyone with a pair of eyes this season can see Megan is a claimer to have on your side, and the word from the stable is that he needed the run badly over hurdles at Kempton just over a fortnight ago, his first outing since April.
Hopefully, that is the case as he definitely didn’t set the world alight when last of seven in that novices’ hurdle, but Paul Nicholls, whose string is really beginning to catch fire now, would surely have had this race in mind for his five-year-old since coming in from a summer at grass.
He clearly hasn’t got too many secrets from the handicapper – certainly not when his chance is ranged alongside the unbeaten DEJA – but looks well overpriced at 25/1 with some bookies paying four places.
As ever this mile-and-a-half contest will take some figuring out but the booking of champion apprentice Cieren Fallon for 6/1 second favourite COLLIDE is worth noting, and Fallon junior’s 3lb claim will come in very handy.
The horse comes here fresh having had a breathing operation in July and as a son of Frankel will have bags of stamina and he still looks fairly treated.
His trainer Hugo Palmer also used to train another big-priced outsider FRANCIS XAVIER who is now with Staffordshire handler Kevin Frost. He stayed this trip when he won at Ascot in September and he’s another horse that will enjoy the autumn ground conditions.
His run at Pontefract last time out was encouraging too and there could be still more to come from this relatively lightly raced five-year-old. He’s 16/1 with Carrigill’s and looks another each way option.
Tim Easterby’s STROXX didn’t handle Chester’s sharp left-handed turns when runner-up in September and also didn’t appear to be at home when fourth at Wolverhampton last time, but Doncaster’s wide open galloping track is likely to suit and he can break his duck in the opener at 12 noon.
Kevin Ryan’s latest sprinting star BIELSA can find the back of the net for the fifth time this year in the Listed Wentworth Stakes. He bolted up in a heavy ground handicap over course and distance last time out and looks a group horse in the making.
Over the jumps at Wincanton, Nicholls goes for a hat-trick of wins in the Silver Trophy with PRESENT MAN. His first two wins had the benefit of Bryony Frost’s claim each time and as she keeps the ride, he may well struggle to give 12lbs to better handicapped chasers like CLOTH CAP, who is definitely in with a chance if the ground stays no worse than good to soft.
Venetia Williams has a strong hand in the 2m4f Virgin Bet Handicap Chase at Aintree where DIDERO VALLIS, who is two from three at this trip, could be the best of her pair.
Carrigill’s nap: (money back as a free bet if finishes outside top 4. Write Augur on your slip to qualify): DANZINO, Doncaster, Saturday, 2.05.
Augur’s best bet:
FRANCIS XAVIER (e/w), Doncaster, Saturday, 3.15.