There are four UK race meetings taking place on Thursday, with a mix of jumps and all-weather action.
Southwell gets the ball rolling on the Tapeta, before jumps cards from Wincanton and Fakenham, while the evening racing is at Chelmsford City on the Polytrack.
Our fancies include one for Alan King in very familiar silks at Wincanton hoping to rubberstamp a Cheltenham Festival passport.
- Wincanton 2.00 – Spartan Army @ 5/4
- Southwell 3.25 – Aztec Empire @ 7/4
- Chelmsford 8.00 – The Bay Warrior @ 11/2
Trainer Alan King will be eager to see the Triumph Hurdle-entered SPARTAN ARMY (5/4) notch a second hurdles win of his fledgling career at Wincanton in the Christchurch Novices’ Hurdle (2.00) this afternoon.
The son of Highland Reel was useful on the Flat with Joseph O’Brien, winning a Down Royal maiden last June on his third start, before changing hands for 170,000 gns as he moved under the umbrella of the McNeill Family and switched to King’s Barbury Castle base.
He made the perfect start when landing a Wetherby maiden (2m, heavy) in November in ready fashion and that was enough to prompt a bid for the Grade 2 Finale at Chepstow over Christmas, where he finished midfield in a contest that has received some significant form-boosts since.
He’s back in calmer waters now and holds excellent form claims, while he should improve again and will be suited on this slightly faster surface. Adrian Heskin’s mount is on the Most Napped list for today’s racing with the Betfred Betfinder and, while the likes of Matata and Celtic Art have shown promise too, he is forecast to come out on top here.
AZTEC EMPIRE (7/4) was odds-on for a maiden over this C&D in November – his second start and first in 436 days – and looked sure to score with some authority as he turned for home cruising.
He found debutant Quantum Leap hard to shake however and ultimately went down a half-length as that rival ran him down late, the pair well clear.
Andrew Balding’s son of Sea The Stars made amends for that at Kempton in January, cruising around and burning his rivals off by some seven-lengths in a taking display.
On the back of that effort, he’s been allotted an opening handicap mark of 86 which is no gimme coming into this Class 3 Apprentice Handicap but he’s already shown he handles the track here at Southwell, looks sure to progress plenty and can add this prize to last month’s Kempton win.
Short-price favourite Storm Catcher is bidding to complete a C&D hat-trick, but he only managed a dead-heat here early last month and has more on his plate from this higher mark.
One that may be value against him is bottom-weight THE BAY WARRIOR (11/2) for the Mark Usher team.
He already boasts a C&D success, scoring here last April, and has twice run well in those races here won by Storm Catcher this winter.
Allowing for a drop in the ratings and Rose Dawes’ claim in the saddle now, he’s got a significant pull at the weights and could make the most of it.