Ben Linfoot’s Friday Nap won at Lingfield – now Adam Houghton leads the rule over UK Saturday meetings.
PALMERS HILL – 2,55 Ascot (NAP)
A very expensive purchase after a point win in spring 2017, PALMERS HILL was apparently a tough horse to stay healthy over the years. After all, he made just five starts in his first three seasons in training with Jonjo O’Neill, the last of those appearances coming after his longest-ever sideline stint of 461 days.
It looked like his apparent potential would never be fulfilled, but this season Palmers Hill finally got a chance to show what he can do when he strings together a couple of quick runs. Braving a 241-day absence to finish over fences on the second attempt at Wetherby in November, he readily defied a BHA mark of 130 and a 4lb increase in weights was nowhere near enough, to stop him in his pursuit -Up bid on that rate next month.
That was a coming of age feat as Palmers Hill was clear after the final race to land the spoils by nine and a half lengths and still appeared very strong at the end of a truly led race. That suggests a return to two miles and five furlongs won’t be a problem here, a journey he successfully overcame hurdles earlier in his career.
In fact, it’s that untapped endurance that suggests Palmers Hill has even more to offer as a chaser, as this is also only his fourth start. He will envision braving another 8lb increase in weights to complete the hat trick.
EMPIRE STEEL – 2,35 Heudock
Remastered and Royale Pagaille have garnered a lot of columns leading up to the Peter Marsh Chase, but there’s a chance this pair will be overshadowed in the race itself EMPIRE STEEL, an ever-improving pursuer who has caught the eye on both starts this season.
On his reappearance at this course and distance in November, beaten only by another promoted, Empire Steel finished second. Empire Steel would probably have done even better if he hadn’t been knocked out four times on Boxing Day at the Rowland Meyrick Chase in Wetherby. He was powerful on his head then, definitely better than the eventual winner and it wasn’t even a bad jump that caused his fall, but collapsed on landing.
Empire Steel does particularly well in the mud and there’s no doubt he’s still a well-handicapped horse who promises to continue to improve over obstacles – so much so that the fact that he’s 3lbs lighter isn’t enough , to put him down in that prestigious handicap.
“I expect a massive run from him” | Best bets for Ascot and Haydock
UMM HURAIR – 3,40 Lingfield
Saturday’s card at Lingfield heralds the start of a new era at Beckhampton Stables as Roger and Harry Charlton send out their first runner as joint license holders. The horse in question is UMM HURAIR, which gives the new training partnership a very good chance of starting with a winner.
Constantly improving, Umm Hurair showed fine form to score a hat-trick at Wolverhampton last month, defying a penalty after just seven days off with plenty in reserve. This race was only run at a modest canter, so it was thanks to her that she was able to come out of the middle class to ultimately get the job done decisively, moving fast from two stadia and winning by two lengths.
Once BHA reaches 90 it gets harder again, but it’s highly unlikely that we’ve seen the best of Umm Hurair so far, and she remains very much to follow. She will have no problem stepping up to a quarter mile and booking Ryan Moore is the icing on the cake in a race that should be driven suitably (very strong pace prognosis).
MINNIE ESCAPE – 3.53 Taunton
The temperamental MINNIE ESCAPE could be worth a little interest in either direction here, with the odds being worthwhile, with her recent fifth place finish on this course being a step in the right direction compared to what she had done earlier this season.
Minnie Escape was easy to back up last time, so it’ll be interesting to see what the market makes of her chances here, but there’s definitely a reason for her if she finds herself on the back of that effort. Held back in the early stages, she made up good ground to get close, leaving the back straight before continuing at pace to clear the post eight and a half lengths behind the winner.
Crucially, Minnie Escape is 2 pounds lighter here and is now back on the same mark as when she last won at Stratford in November 2020. Alan Johns is back in the saddle today, taking over from an inexperienced amateur Minnie Escape is definitely one worth a second look now back to a journey she should stay.
OLD HARBOR – 6.30 Wolverhampton
Adam Kirby is always a man to follow when racing at Wolverhampton – he has had a 21% on-track hit rate since the start of the 2017 season – and his best chance of a win on Saturday’s evening card appears to be up OLD PORT, who will try to confirm the improvement he showed in his successful handicap debut here 12 days ago.
Old Port still didn’t look finished on this occasion, running green and edgy when asked about his effort, but there was no doubt about his superiority at the finish. In fact, he looked better the further he went, staying ahead for the last 50 yards and eventually going half-length past the post over his closest pursuer.
Old Port’s strength in the finish suggests that the extra distance here could allow for further progress, while the experience he’s gained there won’t hurt him either.
He certainly has a more interesting profile than most in this lineup and a BHA mark of 74 – up 5lbs from last time – still looks very fair.
- Fontaine Collonges 5/2 (NAP)
- Kihavah 9/2 (NAP)
- Brave Effort 3/1
- Art of Diplomacy 10/11
- Sydney Street 6/4 (NAP)
- No flies on me 6/5 (NAP)
- Destin D’Ajonc 9/4 (NAP)
- Race card 4/1
- Star Shield 3/1
- Famous Star 5/2
- Good times, bad times 6/4
- King of the South 7/2
- Night Love 6/4
- Barde Bella 8.11
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