The Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle and Grand National Trial are the big races at Haydock on Saturday and the Racing Post's Robbie Wilders provides a selection in each.
Erne River @ 5/2
Tim Pat @ 9/1
You won’t find many weaker Grade 2s than the Rendlesham Hurdle (2.05) and the fact the top two runners on BHA figures are rated just 143 highlights that.
If this race provides any Cheltenham clues it is likely to be in the Pertemps Final rather than the Stayers’ Hurdle, as none of these have a Grade 1 entry bar the novice Inis Oirr, who has the option of the Albert Bartlett.
He has too much to find in this company, while there is no guarantee Itchy Feet will replicate the form of his recent Huntingdon victory with the ground easing as he wouldn’t be suited by a slog.
Recent Sandown winner Green Book must defy a 4lb penalty and it is a concern for his supporters that he flopped at this meeting last campaign after running in that same Sandown race, so I’d have this between strong stayer Ashtown Lad and ERNE RIVER.
Given Ashdown Lad is using this as a springboard to the Grand National and lacks the potential to rate much higher in this sphere, Erne River has to be the pick.
Erne River produced a couple of seriously impressive novice chase victories last season, performances which prompted him to be sent off an 11/4 chance to beat Ascot Chase-bound pair Pic D’Orhy and Millers Bank in a Grade 1 at Aintree.
However, his jumping became erratic over fences and switching back to hurdles seems the pertinent choice at this stage of his career.
Indeed, Erne River almost landed a decent handicap at Doncaster on his return to hurdling off top weight when last seen and seemed to appreciate his first try over a staying trip there.
With plenty of form on soft ground, Erne River is well positioned to provide a landmark graded triumph for trainer Nick Kent. He is unexposed and should have plenty more to offer in a below-average running.
The Grand National Trial (2.40) gets the juices flowing for the big day in April, although this race typically hasn’t provided the best pointers for Aintree.
This should be a war of attrition with the ground set to ease at the Lancashire course and I want proven stayers on my side over this taxing three-and-a-half-mile trip.
While TIM PAT races from 3lb out of the weights, this lightly-raced course and distance winner is a massive player with just 10st 2lb on his back.
Carrying low weights in this type of race is a positive and Tin Pat relished his first attempt at a marathon distance here last March.
While he is yet to score since and must defy an 8lb higher mark, he has improved with each start this campaign and shaped as if an extra few furlongs would aid his cause over 3m when a staying-on second on good ground at Doncaster in January.
My selection’s soft-ground form figures under rules read 1125 and I’m convinced he’ll be better than a mark of 128 as he gains greater experience in competitive staying chases.
Perhaps Saturday is the day he justifies that theory as Donald McCain’s sole runner on the card with Brian Hughes aboard. He is worth supporting each-way with four places up for grabs.