Bridgnorth trainer Phil Rowley was in unbeatable form when landing saddling three winners at last year’s meeting and it could be a case of Deja vu when the stables runners line up for the opening fixture of the West Midland season on Friday morning (29th December).
Rowley sent out 29 winners in 2016/17 and continued the good work when the new campaign opened a few weeks ago. That confirms his horse’s wellbeing and it could be another “red letter day” for the Area’s Leading Trainer.
Proceedings commence with the 2-1/2 mile Restricted which has 32 entries. That number is slightly down on last year, but means it may not be necessary to divide the race on the day.
Palmaria is top rated and has to be feared if coming up from the West Country while others with useful form include Full Batten, Easy on Sunday and Captain Kennit. Lily’s Got Wings led her rivals a merry dance at Barbury and was just in front of The Sting (engaged later in the afternoon) when the Rowley runner departed at the final obstacle.
The trainer has his Cold Harbour Maiden winner Champagne Lilly entered and obviously knows where each horse is in his stables “pecking order” so it is reassuring that has no qualms about running Pique Rock over this shorter distance. She is well regarded and there was a lot to like about her winning performance. It will take a good one to lower her colours.
Martin Weston’s Hindlip trained Double You Be might just be capable of doing so. The 5-year-old won an Irish Maiden last year and had shown promise prior to that before being brought by present connections for a substantial sum at Cheltenham Sales in November.
There are a lot of unknown quantities in the 2-1/2 Mile Maiden. Many of them do not have any form to back up their potential so picking the winner is fraught with danger.
Opinion was divided if The Sting would have prevailed prior to falling at the final fence on her racecourse debut, hopefully that has not affected her confidence. Rowley has a useful second string in Call Claude who ran twice in bumpers for Kim Bailey and as a 4-year-old will be getting a useful weight allowance from most of his rivals.
The Weston stable hold three entries. Iwasthefutureonce, The Late Legend and Dannys Star who was a bit of a talking horse prior to his racecourse debut and it has to be said that two third places did not match early predictions. Another summer under his belt may prove a turning point and his finishing position will prove interesting.
The Mens Open is worth the entry money and Rowley holds the key with Temple Grandin and Now Ben, so take note which is his preferred option.
Iberico was successful at Barbury where he did well to concede 6lb to Lilbitluso who was returning after an absence. Iberico is a useful yardstick and Lilbitluso will need to improve considerably to turn the tables.
Battle Dust, Johnny Og and Maybe Plenty have been plying their trade under Rules and they may need time to adapt to Point-to-Points. Bay Sly is a confirmed front runner and that has carried him to many successes. He was beaten a long way from home at Cottenham and that has to be a cause for concern.
Supreme Danehill never runs a bad race, while the Rucker’s Wild Bill won last year’s contest and is not without a chance of a repeat success. The Welsh raiders Colorado Doc and Frelia are others to consider.
Those looking for something at longer odds, Scare Toi might be the answer. He always puts in his best work at the finish and had a pipe-opener a few weeks ago. His novice rider George Daly will have learnt a lot from that experience but don’t expect them to appear on the scene until the very last minute.
The Ladies Open sees the reappearance of Sybarite who finished second in last year’s race. He is a bit of a character but is a potential winner if consenting to put his best hoof forward.
Foxcub ran well at Cottenham recently, while Invisible Man has always shown his best form in Ladies Races, although he was not on the top of his game last season. Big Casino did well to finish third recently and Ally Sterling presence in the saddle is another bonus. A good performance is predicted whether it is a winning one remains to be seen.
The Conditions is another race on Phil Rowley’s hit list. Namako is one of the lesser lights of his stable but still sets a useful standard. This will be no walk over with the likes of In the Hold, Rockinrolldixie and Creepy amongst potential rivals, while Bally River Boy has been placed in a couple of Irish Point-to-Points and Executive Benefit has a course win to his credit.
Chasforgold has improved since last year according to trainer Emma Alvis and so it proved when he won at Barbury. He has a course success to his credit but Sam Jukes may need to repeat previous tactics where he went to the front half a mile from home and defied all efforts to catch him.
The 3-mile Maiden at this meeting is always worth watching as it invariably provides plenty of winners later in the season. It is also an opportunity to assess horses with previous form and those making their pointing debuts.
Round Robin was knocking on the door all last season but struggled to get his head in front, while Blue Rhythm is the type to do well in this type of event having shown a smattering of form under Rules.
Others to note include Ask the Guvnor and The Oppidan who was beaten a neck in a Point-to-Point last year but has now changed stables, while a watchful eye should be kept on Benjamin Leader, Grove Castle and The Late Legend.
Marcle Ridge seems to have everything in his favour. Named after a local landmark Clive Bennetts runner has had one run in Ireland. He started favourite on that occasion and looked as though he would reward his supporters until outpaced on the run in.
The stable is in form and that run is better than that shown by most of his rivals so it will be disappointing if he fails to build on that performance.
The Novice Riders includes the experienced Brians Well and Bivouac, plus Milled and Minella Friend but it may pay to take a chance with Toowoomba who hails from Clare Hardwicks stable and is likely to team up with Tom Britten.