Point-to-point preview: record number of entries for Sunday's Vine & Craven meeting at Barbury Racecourse
Sam Jukes is excited about running Cheltenham Festival hope Marcle Ridge at the Vine & Craven Hunt meeting at Barbury Racecourse, near Marlborough, on Sunday (February 9).
Jukes, who is based at Dymock, near Ledbury, believes the Clive Bennett-owned eight-year-old can step up on his six-lengths second to Caid Du Berlais at Buckfastleigh last month when he lines up in the Mixed Open.
The trainer-rider said: "It's his prep for the Cheltenham Foxhunters. We ran him a couple of weeks ago at Buckfastleigh. It was his first run of the season and I wanted to get two runs into him before the Festival. He was probably not 100 per cent and needed the run. He has had a wind op since last year and I think that has improved him again. I am quite excited about him this year."
Marcle Ridge features among a 31-strong entry, which includes Templebraden, who won this race on his seasonal reappearance last year and was also third in 2018 and second in 2017. Now 13, the veteran gained a head verdict over Marcle Ridge at Maisemore Park last term.
Kinnersley trainer James Ridley said: "He was good at Barbury last year and I would like to think his first run would be one of his better runs this year."
Wick Green could look to continue his climb up the ladder for Peter Mason's Ablington yard, near Bibury, after gaining a head verdict over Captain Buck's at Larkhill, while Southfield Theatre, who has been given an alternative engagement at Cottenham by Letcombe Bassett trainer Sara Bradstock, is proven at this level.
Sally Randell says she is more likely to run Cheltenam de Vaige from her Withington stables, near Andoversford, than her impressive Cocklebarrow winner Barney Dawn.
With clerk of the course John White reporting the Barbury ground to be Good to Soft on Monday, the meeting, which gets under way at 11.30, has attracted a bumper 174 entries - the highest for any fixture this year - with 21 in contention for the Ten Years & Over Conditions Race over 3m 4f.
Azure Fly, who won in good style at Cocklebarrow, is joint top-rated. However, Bibury trainer Dibby Brown said: "We have still not decided whether to run so soon, but we thought we would give him an entry and see how he is."
Lotus Pond, a three-time course winner, is likely to improve on his seasonal return when third at Bangor-on-Dee last month for Mandy Bryan's Worthen Hall stables, near Shrewsbury.
Course winner The Dapper Fox may represent Cullompton owner-trainer-rider Jack Veysey after finishing second to Sausalito Sunrise at Cocklebarrow where The Well Road was back in fourth.
The latter's trainer, Sam Jukes, said: "He stays all day, but obviously that was his first time at that distance and the ground went against him."
Aston Rowant trainer Alan Hill has given Knight Bachelor, who was disqualified after bypassing a dolled-off fence on the incorrect side before finishing second at Ampton last month, an entry here and in the PPORA Club Novice Riders Conditions Race.
This contest has 26 entries headed by Master Dancer, a 10-length second to Silsol at Chipley Park for Cullompton trainer Stuart Sampson, while Gingili was consistent in this class last term for Johnny Farrelly's Upper Twinhoe stables, near Bath.
Owner-trainer Tim Underwood has set his sights on taking the Sporting Agenda Vine & Craven Hunt Members, Subscribers & Farmers Race for a third successive year, this time with Miss Massey.
Underwood believes his seven-year-old mare has an outstanding chance of following up last month's Larkhill win. He thinks Princely Player would be a danger against Miss Massey: "Martin Oliver reckons she is the best horse I have ever had - he really rates her."
Meeting secretary Karen Hobbs will monitor the going before deciding whether to let Princely Player, who reeled off a hat-trick at the end of last term, line up for her East Garston stables: "He is in really good form and has schooled well, so he is on target for it, but he likes the top of the ground."
Underwood also has Tinnehinch among the 13 entries, but his Irish import is more likely to tackle the Magee Equine Restricted. The 10-year-old split Risky Gold and Family Man in a tight finish at Cocklebarrow, and his trainer feels he is ready to go one better: "If he puts his best foot forward he will win."
Jukes is hoping Gottagottagetaway can build on last month's Buckfastleigh 15-length maiden success: "He is still very green. He didn't really know what was going on when he hit the front."
The Jockey Club Estates Open Maiden has attracted the day's biggest entry of 34. Top rated is Shamilan, who has joined Julie Mansell's Hasfield yard, near Gloucester, after showing promise under rules for Tom George - including when sixth at Chepstow in October.
Organised Solution (runner-up to Goldenbrave at Bangor-on-Dee), My Bobby Dazzler (second to Fedelta at Larkhill) and So Socksy (who found just Lady Sally too good here in December) are other likely contenders.
Dibby Brown believes her newcomer Ifyoucanseemenow will benefit from the experience: "He has just got to learn to settle. He might be one that takes a few runs, but he is a nice horse."
Phil Rowley landed a division of the Flat Race last year with Bird On The Wire, making his two entries, Heeratsunset and Luke San, of obvious interest this time. Gearoid Costelloe's duo, Any Alibis and Indigo Breeze, are worth a market check after he claimed a similar Larkhill contest last month with Grand Knight.
Rounding off the meeting will be the inaugural running of the Barbury Castle Racing Staff Charity Race in aid of the Thames Valley Air Ambulance. Open to any rider who works full time in a racing yard and has never held an amateur license or any license, it has attracted entries from the stables of Alan King, Oliver Sherwood, Kim Bailey, Dai Williams, David Weston and Chris Gordon.
Also new to the meeting is a dog show and a heated big tent, provided by Freddie Tulloch’s Outside Chance bar, with picnic hospitality pens available to rent. Pat Murphy will be the meeting MC during the morning, with Nicky Henderson taking over in the afternoon. Admission is £15 on the day, which includes a racecard, or £10 in advance, and under 16s are free. There is more information visit here.