The Notebook: Watch out for Otago Trail if rain hits Cheltenham

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The big guns might all be kept wrapped up in cotton wool, or saving their sparse appearances for the weekend, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t seen any antepost movement on the back of action on the track this week.

From the Betfair Hurdle, to the Arkle there were clues aplenty for contests in the coming weeks all around the UK.

Festival form boost for Robinsfirth

David Bass didn’t really have a say in the matter as One for the Guvn’r pulled himself into the lead rounding the home turn in Ludlow’s maiden hurdle on Monday.

But bounding clear, to run out a 10l winner, Nicky Henderson’s charge looked a smart prospect.

The ease of the victory paid compliments to Robinsfirth who battled to victory over him on his penultimate start.

Colin Tizzard’s charge has an entry in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, and connections will be very thankful of that form boost in Worcestershire.

Fascino goes fifth-favourite for Betfair Hurdle

The application of a hood seems to have been the making of Dan Skelton’s Fascino Rustico.

After winning his bumper, he went six races without a win, but with headgear applied he has looked a different animal.

He made up for a late fall at the back end of the season when winning at Bangor at the start of January, and doubled up at Newcastle in very taking fashion on Wednesday.

Aided by the scrappy jumping of market rival Zip Top, Harry Skelton’s mount was able to draw clear after the last, proving a comfortable winner.

The bookies reaction was instant, his price for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury cut from 16/1 into 12/1 after his facile victory.

Bridgwater shows he knows how to get them fit

With his stable in flying form in recent weeks David Bridgwater would have had high hopes at Towcester on Thursday.

But what was mightily impressive was the training performance the Icomb-based yard must have put in to get Gino Trail in a position to win after 20 months off.

The gelding showed no signs of rustiness, pulling well clear of the rest, having fought off the brief challenge of Go West Young Man in the 2m Novices’ Hurdle.

If managing to keep him sound he could be a decent performer, having been beaten just six lengths by Hennessy Gold Cup third Merry King in a point to point in his early days.

Otago on the Supreme Novices’ Trail

It seems that when Venetia Williams’ Otago Trail wins his races, he wins them impressively.

A 69l victor in a Fontwell bumper last year, before finishing 2l behind 16/1 Albert Bartlett chance Thomas Brown at Bangor, he was well backed for his hurdles debut.

That race, a 2m4f contest at Carlisle saw the son of Heron Island saunter home on the bridle by 15l.

And he proved that despite this win over further, he doesn’t lack pace, with an effortless 2m triumph at Wincanton on Thursday.

Should the ground be testing come the Cheltenham Festival, the 20/1 (from 33/1) chance for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is likely to take his chance to prove his worth at the top level.

Pipe’s gelding Sails By his rivals again

Another son of Heron Island going places looks to be Sail By The Sea.

Having had just two (good) runs over hurdles before immediately being switched to fences, David Pipe must have always had this one marked as a better chaser.

An encouraging debut when 6l behind Grumeti at Plumpton was eclipsed at Chepstow, with his charge sauntering home by 10l, with a further 25l and 11l back to third and fourth.

He holds an entry Arkle at Cheltenham, but at 50/1 looks to have his work cut out, but would be a very interesting proposition in the Novices’ Handicap on the opening day.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.