Warwick’s new season gets under way today when the course hosts The Smarkets Racing UK Grand Season Opener, the first of 18 meetings stretching through the winter and finishing with the May Racing Carnival, writes David Hucker.
Course ambassador Dan Skelton saddles dual winner Weightfordave in the first division of the Smarkets Betting Exchange Novices’ Hurdle that gets the meeting underway at 2.20pm.
Weightfordave has to carry a double-penalty for those successes but amateur rider William Marshall, who has ridden one winner from four rides for the stable this season, reduces his weight by 7lb.
However, he faces a stiff task against Nicky Henderson’s Full Bore who, although not the easiest of rides, is a force to be reckoned with once he finds his stride and could get the champion trainer off to a good start on the afternoon.
Henderson looks to have a good chance of doubling up in the second division with Laughing Luis, successful in a bumper at Stratford last month for former Coventry City manager John Sillett.
The booking of Denis O’Regan for Primal Focus, another graduating from bumpers to hurdles, looks significant, although he has ground to make up on Laughing Luis on their run at Worcester and the Henderson horse is taken to come out on top again.
Harry Skelton, who leads reigning champion Richard Johnson by eight in the race for this season’s jockeys’ title, rides dual winner Peppay Le Pugh in the Smarkets Novices’ Handicap Chase over two miles and he will have to overcome a 15lb hike in the weights for his latest success if he is to bring up the hat- trick.
O’Regan rides Cap Du Nord this time and was on board when he struck over hurdles at Sandown Park in December.
Nine line up for the Paul Ferguson’s Jumpers To Follow Handicap Hurdle over three-and-a-quarter miles with Johnson on the hat-trick seeking Silk Run for trainer Tom Lacey. Both his wins came at Bangor-on-Dee and he has yet to score on any other track but should not be far away.
Dreamsoftheatre only went down by a head to Guerrilla Tactics at Stratford but the winner let the form down when unplaced at Newton Abbot last week and he has to carry 4lb more this time.
Lillian won three times last summer but has not been able to repeat that form in 2018. However, she is coming down the weights and could represent each-way value here.
Top of the bill is the Class 3 Birdie’s 2019 Wall & Desk Calendars Handicap Chase with a guaranteed prize fund of £16,400 and, in an open-looking contest, the front-running Bestwork is taken to land the contest for Over Norton trainer Charlie Longsdon, with Ballycross a likely danger.
There is another good-size field for the Smarkets Mares’ Handicap Hurdle over two miles and three furlongs in which 33-1 Stratford winner Kristal Hart will be looking to follow up. Her cause was certainly helped by the last-flight fall of Scotsbrook Night that day but she is still handily-weighted on a mark of 86 and can fight out the finish with the Ian Williams-trained top-weight Dory.
The closing £50 Risk Free On Racing With Smarkets Handicap Chase provides Filemon with a good opportunity to atone for his defeat at Stratford last time, when a shuddering mistake at the third-last fence cost him a chance of victory just as he had taken the lead and looked to be going like the winner.