Racing Post tipster Robbie Wilders is back in the chair and provides his three best bets across the cards on what is set to be a weather-affected Friday.
American Sniper @ 4/1
Thunderclap @ 5/1
Anthem National @ 2/1
Sabrina is expected to be a warm order for the 2m5½f handicap hurdle at Exeter (3.00) on the strength of her second to Cheltenham Festival fancy Walking On Air here last time.
However, she is yet to deliver anything special on Racing Post Ratings (peak figure of 118) and more is required off a career-high mark of 120 for a mare who doesn’t appear to be progressing.
Preference at a bigger price instead is for top weight AMERICAN SNIPER, who bounced back from a rare flat effort at Leicester in February with a game second under a double penalty to the useful Twig in a Newbury novice hurdle last time.
The pair pulled 32 lengths clear of the third, and my selection took well to the first-time cheekpieces as he kept responding for pressure when appearing likely to fade in a sustained battle with the strong-travelling winner.
The aid is retained and the David Pipe-trained five-year-old returns to handicaps with a fighting chance off a mark of 127 as he is 2lb well-in on his future rating.
The decision to quickly turn out this tough and largely consistent performer can be rewarded over an extra furlong, while the prospect of some overnight rain holds no fears for American Sniper ahead of just his second start in a handicap.
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The eye is naturally drawn to Red Dirt Road off a mark of 117 on his handicap debut in the 2m½f handicap hurdle in the following race (3.35) at Exeter.
Red Dirt Road beat Albert Bartlett favourite Corbetts Cross in his point-to-point last year and the form of his second at Leicester in December was franked by third home Cuthbert Dibble, who bolted up next time and features among the favourites for Saturday’s Imperial Cup at Sandown.
I can’t help but feel we haven’t yet seen the best of THUNDERCLAP over hurdles, though.
Thunderclap reached a peak rating of 84 on the Flat last summer and the switch to much quicker ground at Exeter might just prompt a better effort on his handicap debut in this discipline.
His three starts in novice hurdles have been on a surface described as soft or heavy.
If reproducing something resembling the best of his form in the other sphere, Thunderclap is thrown in off a mark of 110 and it is eye-catching that Hughie Morrison has enlisted the services of top jockey Charlie Deutsch in the saddle.
Morrison also boasts a decent record at Exeter, with two wins and two seconds from five runners over the past five seasons at the Devon track.
It’s over to Dundalk for my final bet as ANTHEM NATIONAL can be expected to take a major step forward on his second start for Joseph O’Brien in the mile conditions contest (7.15).
By Dark Angel and out of Grade 1-placed filly Anthem Alexander, Anthem National bagged third in a similar race over 7f on his first start for 281 days in January.
With natural improvement for the return, Anthem National really should reverse form with stablemate San Andreas, who was race-fit going into that contest and picked up a seriously easy lead in a slowly-run affair.
Anthem National returns from a gelding operation, but that isn’t a concern as O’Brien’s overall 15 per cent strike-rate rises to 26 per cent with first-time geldings.
This four-year-old might be third best in here off these terms on official ratings, but remains lightly raced after just five starts and can gain a second career success.