Outside of the headline races at Kempton and Warwick, six horses have caught the eye of our editor in their respective races. Read about the sextet's chances below, alongside an excellent offer from William Hill, who are offering Bet £10 - Get £40 In Free Bets to new customers.
DALY TIGER (12:50pm Fairyhouse) 9/4
Noel Meade’s nine-year-old won two big handicap chases last season, but seems destined from now on to be a horse sandwiched between a handicap mark and Graded level.
DALY TIGER ran in three Graded chases after his handicap successes, but could only pick up the pieces behind Cilaos Emery and Energumene in two of them, without ever threatening. In the other, he was last of five at Navan to Any Second Now.
Back over hurdles, he was found a good opportunity at Limerick on Boxing Day, winning on his first start in this sphere for almost exactly three years. That was over 2m 4f, while he will step back to the minimum of two miles here.
As such, he carries a 5lb penalty against some potential up-and-comers in Autumn Evening and Indigo Breeze, but he is the class horse in the race with established form.
SKY PIRATE (1:18pm Warwick) 10/3
Conceding 20lb and more all round in ITV4’s first race, SKY PIRATE is undoubtedly the class animal in the race and should be disrespected at your peril.
While Brave Seasca and Not Available are improving, Sky Pirate won this race last year, admittedly off 12lb lower, but ran a very credible race behind Shishkin in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase last time out. In that race, he finished only a few lengths behind Tingle Creek winner Greaneteen.
That suggests that a mark of 157 is potentially workable and 2lb lower than that which he has run off at Cheltenham and Ascot this season. Given he won the Grand Annual at the Festival last term off 5lb lower, one of only five British trained winners at Cheltenham in 2021, this is far easier in a smaller field.
He might not be as progressive as last season, but he is capable of running to at least 160, so his opponents will have to be comfortably ahead of their marks if they are on song.
THREEUNDERTHRUFIVE (1:50pm Warwick) 8/13
He may be under a 5lb penalty for a Grade 2 success at Doncaster five weeks ago, but THREEUNDERTHRUFIVE is clear of this field on his chase efforts to date.
He has only faced a grand total of 12 rivals in his four chase starts so far, but that speaks more to a dearth of class in the British novice chasers than it does to criticise his ability.
Indeed, his Grade 2 victory last time has been franked, as runner-up Fantastikas filled one of the places behind L’Homme Presse in a stronger event at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. There has also been a trend of progression on each start, as he beat former conqueror Does He Know at Prestbury Park in November.
While he probably lacks the class of stablemate Bravemansgame, Threeunderthrufive will likely turn into a redoubtable staying chaser of his own accord and could be one to come good in a Grade 1 at Aintree or Punchestown if connections fear the strength in depth at Cheltenham.
SOLDIERS MINUTE (2:20pm Lingfield) 5/2
Back in handicap company, this mark could prove tricky for the diminutive SOLDIER’S MINUTE, but he has relished his time on the all weather recently for Keith Dalgliesh.
In fact, he has improved to his highest ever mark of 105 off the back of victory at Wolverhampton on Boxing Day. That is 10lb higher than he has on turf and owes mostly to that excellent effort.
However, he had also been third in Listed company over this course and distance in November, while he looked set to win a handicap the following month, as he travelled the strongest.
That he could not get passed his rivals that day is a slight concern, but his regular campaigning is paying off and he is arguably improving faster than any of his rivals despite his relatively advancing age.
MARIE’S ROCK (2:40pm Kempton) 6/1
There was plenty expected of MARIE’S ROCK, who was made favourite for the 2020 Mares’ Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival before injury curtailed her campaign.
Talk even turned to Champion Hurdle prospects when she lined up in the same intermediate handicap hurdle that stablemate Epatante had when she came back the following season, but it turns out a step up in trip was what was needed.
In that race, she was very disappointing and she also failed to win in her next three starts, but over 2m 5f at Kempton on Boxing Day, she cruised clear with a flashy turn of foot under Adrian Heskin.
She received a 9lb rise for that success, but if this is her true calling, that will not look a sharp rise and she could yet be an interesting candidate for the Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival if she resumes her progress.
SIRE DU BERLAIS (3:35pm Warwick) 12/1
Be very cautious with any of your bets in this contest, for a seven-runner Pertemps Qualifier, for which six would qualify for the big handicap at the Cheltenham Festival, could be rife with those looking to protect a mark.
All bar one of these will be eligible to run in that race in March if they wish, especially as it’s almost certain that each of them will make the field. Riggs is the only one who may not if he were to run poorly, but the most interesting runner is still dual Pertemps winner SIRE DU BERLAIS.
The reason being is that he has been sent over from Ireland by Gordon Elliott, most likely to ensure he has options for the Festival. Regardless of the quality of his run here, he is likely to be at least 5lb higher than the mark off which he won his last Pertemps Final in 2020.
Therefore, the suspicion is that this might still be a warm-up for the Stayers’ Hurdle rather than the handicap equivalent an hour prior. As such, he can be forgiven his previous run at Leopardstown anyway, as he has never gone well at that track.
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