Pieces of eight

My 40 To Follow stable has, by and large, been tucked up in cosy boxes during January, snuffling warm hay and ignoring the sodden countryside. Today it feels like the dam has burst. Not only because Haywards Heath and Tewkesbury are under water, but also because I've got eight, EIGHT, of my lads out today. That's 20% of the whole project. I suspect there are more waders and snorkels declared amongst this lot than cheekpieces and hoods.

But Cheltenham is round the corner and the representatives out today will all have Festival aspirations to one extent or another.

Today has the feel of a make or break day and I could be at any point on the whooping-weeping continuum come 4.15pm.

Trustan Times - 12.55 Haydock
Has underwhelmed so far over hurdles and last season's form may have flattered him. Back to fences here (novice chase form is sound enough), he might be able to exploit the lower mark in the graduation chase. This is where he should be. Benvolio is serious opposition but I'll take some of the 3-1.

O'Faolain's Boy - 1.30 Haydock
Had the beating of the smart Easter Day on his fencing debut before he ran out of gas. He made a lovely shape over the obstacles and I like him. Four runners here. The money will be for Taquin Du Seuil on his favoured deep ground and at a more suitable trip. His jumping is not without wrinkles though and I fancy Rebecca Curtis's charge to be competitive at 2-1.

Carole's Spirit - 1.50 Ascot
Robert Walford's novice mare has been a star this year and has progressed smoothly with barely a false step. However this listed mares event is serious stuff. I'll be playing at 100-30 or so and I'm sure there's more to come. Ground and trip seem fine. But both Mickie and Highland Retreat look quality though, and this is a tougher assignment.

The Skyfarmer - 2.25 Ascot
Rates one of the classiest novices in the project this season. Hobbs is taking him down the handicap route. Very impressive handicap win at HQ last time sees him shoved up to 140 (17lb) against tough opposition like Thomas Crapper and Irish Saint. Can't be overly confident, especially in the mud. 9-2 is probably fair. We'll know where he stands after today.

Melodic Rendezvous - 2.40 Haydock
Haydock's Champion Hurdle trial isn't overly endowed with graduates who claim the big one. Rooster Booster was the last in 2004. I still cling to the notion that Melodic Rendezvous might be another. Bitterly disappointing in the Fighting Fifth, he comes here with questions to answer. Possibly he didn't like the ground, although that would surprise the trainer, who has said good ground would be better for him. Nick Scolfield thought he just wasn't right that day. Whatever, we do know he likes this ground and I expect to see a bold showing. Don't. Let. Me. Down.

Katenko - 3.15 Haydock
Katenko is exciting to watch and has good form in big chases last season. Going well when coming down 4 out in the Hennessy, Venetia turned him out a week or so later at Aintree. That was a lacklustre performance. Given a break since and with the mud flying, he has to have a strong chance today in the historic Peter Marsh Chase. Just than nagging doubt that the Summer colic operation might have left its mark.

Sire De Grugy - 3.35 Ascot
Lovely horse. Picking up some very valuable pieces in the absence/illness of Sprinter Sacre. SDG is remarkably consistent, but there were signs at Sandown that he wasn't at his absolute best. He may need to dig deep to win this. Hidden Cyclone is beginning to show the form this season that I hoped would be there last when he was one of my 40 picks. It could be exacta time.

Champagne West - 4.05 Ascot
Another impressive novice from that nice Mr Hobbs. Champagne West has been a bit of a slow learner and looks awkward over hurdles, despite recording a double - last time in a competitive handicap. He's got a penalty for that and though I'd like to see him go left handed because of his jumping, he should still have enough in hand over his rivals here.

I'm also getting in behind Grandioso in the Sodexo Handicap at Cheltenham (3pm). I think there's a touch of quality there. I backed him in the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham where something was obviously amiss as he was pulled up early. Ground a slight concern, but 8-1 is a value price.

This could be a bank-breaker. Batten the hatches...


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