In our latest Through-The-Card preview, GG writer Joe Napier provides his thoughts and selections in every race.
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This 1m4½f handicap is intriguing for the divide between those with course form and those without. Two of the nine strong field have won at the track previously, while seven have not, including three course debutants.
However, the two former winners, Bobby Shaftoe and SPIRIT OF ASH, have both done so on four separate occasions. The latter is the standout, as the former has disappointed on each occasion he has been ridden by a claimer at the track, while Spirit Of Ash is a much more consistent standing order.
Both Belle Of Annandale and Desert Quest return from spells over hurdles, with Adrian Paul Keatley’s charge having done notably well in that sphere.
There’s not a lot of winning pedigree in this race, so the mere fact that Marcello Si and RUBELLITE have won recently is most encouraging. Stella Barclay’s four-year-old might just have the greater propensity to improve though, as she raced miles too wide at Wolverhampton on her last start and Callum Shepherd, who rode her to victory at that track just after the new year, returns to the saddle.
Maidsonelle and Quoteline Direct are at opposite ends of their career arcs, but both have more going for them than most and can easily make the shake-up.
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Possibly the most competitive race on the card, as there are a good few who will fancy their chances. However, off the back of a taking course and distance success, HALE END might take some beating. That was his first run at the track and saw him score by a cosy 2¼-length margin.
He is up 5lb for that victory in a decent lineup, but Michael Dods’ charge looks very capable of belying that rise at the chief expense of the consistent Enola Grey and Khathak.
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Although the likes of Alreet Cha, Star Mind and Princess Alice may be significant improvers on their handicap debuts, George Boughey’s BETTER has already proved a revelation in this sphere. He failed to feature in three maiden and novice runs, but bolted in at Wolverhampton in December when dropped to 6f. The handicapper has been careful in raising him by 11lb, but moving back up slightly to 7f should be no barrier to further success based on his previous performance.
Only three out of ten have run previously, from which Miss Oxford looks the likeliest type to improve substantially. Absolute Star is a half-sister to a winning inmate of her trainer’s so she is likely to be well-fancied, but it might be worth chancing Richard Fahey’s MYSTICAL MARIA.
It seems unusual that Oisin Orr is on the once-raced Sunblock, who is likely to be a bigger price than the yard’s newcome. Mystical Maria ultimately boasts one of the classier pedigrees in this lineup, and, while it will be worth heeding any market signals, looks set to be suited by this trip first time out too.
It’s very possible that Lahab has room to work with off his current mark, but top weight MONDAMMEJ drops in class here and could benefit from a 55-day break. He has only ever experienced a longer time off the track once in his busy career, so it may well freshen him up for an improved performance. In three runs since returning to the all-weather, easily his best effort came over course and distance when second in a class 3 in November.
Down to a class 4, he looks capable of making a bold bid from this mark, as he was also fourth in Listed company as recently as July.
THE CALTONIAN should take all the beating here given his recent form, and surely only a big performance from one of his rivals should prevent him a hat-trick. The five-year-old has won four of seven starts since first racing on an artificial surface in October, effectively improving with every run.
His victory over course and distance at the end of December was facilely achieved, and despite a 5lb penalty for another success when dropped to 5f last week, he looks a horse with further improvement to come.
Both Bernie The Bear and Urban Dandy are consistent sorts who will likely give their running again, but the one who stands out in terms of their mark is PHOENIX STAR. Jessica Macey’s eight-year-old may not be getting any younger, but he is back down to his last winning mark from September after appearing deliberately placed in recent starts.
His two stand out efforts in his last five have both been over course and distance, with 6f stretching him at this track latest, as well as at Kempton and Chelmsford. However, down to a mark of 55, which is also 3lb lower than when second here in October, he is weighted to go close at this trip.
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