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Friday Feature: January 8

Fri 08 January 2016

Cantering up Warren Hill.

Rain, rain, heavy ground, more rain. Despite the adverse weather, Chris has three selections for Saturday, including an audacious attempt to solve the Welsh National.

I was initially disappointed with Yala Enki’s seventh-place finish at Haydock in November, primarily because I had made him the headline selection in this space and found it unfathomable that he could finish outside of the frame. But having watched the race a couple of times since, I thought he shaped a bit better than the bare result there and, as a result, I think he’s a fair bet in the Lanzarote Hurdle (2.35) at Kempton tomorrow.

Alain Cawley bounced Yala Enki out at Haydock and both he and Richie McLernon on Closing Ceremony set a proper gallop in testing conditions. That pair began to wane on the home turn as those from the rear started to close, but he had travelled sufficiently strongly throughout the contest to suggest he’s a well handicapped horse off 130, which his previous win at Exeter (subsequently franked by the second and fourth) would also imply.

He drops a couple of furlongs in trip tomorrow, which I think he’s a positive, and he reverts to a track that habitually suits front runners in a race lacking masses of pace. What’s more, Charlie Deutsch takes off a valuable 5lb and the promising conditional seems particularly at home letting horses bowl along, as evidenced by his fine (albeit losing) ride on Aachen last weekend.

I have Westren Warrior down as the biggest threat, but he’s looked a real grinder in his last couple of starts and he is appeals as a future staying chaser, which brings us neatly onto the Welsh National (1.45).

The rearranged fixture at Chepstow still has to pass the weather, but the updates have been optimistic this afternoon. However, even if racing does goes ahead, conditions are going to be particularly gruelling and horses with previous form in soft ground are by no means guaranteed to handle ‘Chepstow heavy’.

That should not be a problem for Cogry, who won over three miles in deep ground here last December, and a tilt at this contest has always been the plan for Nigel Twiston-Davies’ progressive talent after a fine reappearance at Cheltenham.

He stayed on into fourth over the extended three miles three furlongs there, suggesting he would relish this longer trip, and that form is one of the strongest pieces of its type this season.

What’s more, I was pleasantly surprised looking through the roll of honour for this race to find that seven and eight-year-olds have dominated in recent seasons. The battle-hardened stayer has seemingly not had the legs for such a test over the last decade, and the upwardly-mobile Cogry is certainly the antithesis of that sort. He’s market leader, but a backable price nonetheless.

Lastly back at Kempton, Exitas is worth a very small, speculative each-way punt in the concluding handicap hurdle (3.45). A tilt at novice chasing didn’t work out earlier in the season, and he was well beaten over course and distance over Christmas having made a hash of the second.

But he got back into contention turning for home on that occasion before weakening in the straight and he’s 5lb lower now. That leaves him 2lb lower than when a fine sixth in the Greatwood last season and only 3lb higher than when routing a useful field of handicappers at Sandown previously.

Once again Charlie Deutsch does the steering and this horses loves heavy ground, so he could surprise a few at monster odds.

The highlight horse of the weekend is undoubtedly Min, who seeks to emulate his stable companion and paternal half-brother Douvan by winning the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown (2.05). He’s ridiculously short for the Festival given he’s only won a moderate race in Ireland, but visually and time-wise he looked a superb prospect and let’s hope he can inflate his bubble further this weekend.

Good luck!



2pts win Yala Enki, Haydock 2.35

1pt win Cogry, Chepstow 1.45

0.5pt e/w Exitas, Kempton 3.45

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