A busy weekend of racing launches on Saturday with the big meeting at Ayr featuring the Scottish National, alongside Newbury’s Greenham Stakes, a first proper Classic trial of the new Flat campaign.
Nicky Henderson will be bidding to end a 33-year wait for success in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr.
Britain’s champion trainer last won this race in 1986 and Henderson is armed with a three-pronged attack now as he attempts to stop Paul Nicholls taking his trainers’ title.
Verdana Blue, Brain Power and Mister Fisher are all representing Team Henderson. Stable jockey Nico de Boinville partners the last-named, well beaten in last month’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, while the mare Verdana Blue is already a Grade 1 scorer this term in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
Brain Power, pulled up in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, is fancied to upstage them. He won the International Hurdle before Christmas and simply wouldn’t have relished very soft ground last time in what was a high-class race.
Back in a handicap off a mark of 153, he’s perhaps being overlooked in the betting, with both ground and track liable to suit. Things didn’t go to plan for him chasing but he retains an excellent strike rate over timber and can play a key role here under Aidan Coleman.
The Greenham at Newbury has been robbed of its star attraction as Too Darn Not was ruled out this week. On the undercard we might see a Group 1 contender in the making when Young Rascal faces last year’s winner Defoe in The John Porter Stakes.
Roger Varian’s Defoe won this last year and is a fine benchmark but Young Rascal won four from five starts last year, with his only setback being in the Epsom Derby, where he didn’t relish the track.
Three of those wins (one a dead-heat in the autumn) came at Newbury and he’s much feared coming back here, with likely more to come from him as a four-year-old. With a bit of give forecast underfoot, James Doyle’s mount looks the one to beat and can grab the Group 3 prize off the admirable Defoe.
Later on the all-weather at Wolverhampton, Ed Dunlop’s runner is fancied to make it 2-2 since he moved to Britain. He looks well-treated, having scored for Sophie Smith in an Amateur Riders’ Handicap at Chelmsford last month. He came from off the pace and was ridden under hands and heels in getting up close home.
A one-pound rise looks lenient as he might have been worth more than the slender winning margin. He stays in Class 5 action and, with plenty of speed in his armoury, can once again swoop late in the piece to score, having run well off much higher marks in Ireland last year for trainer Fozzy Stack.