Extra week between festivals gives picturesque Kelso chance to shine on ITV
The nomadic nature of Easter has meant an extra week between Cheltenham and Aintree this year. That is brilliant for those brave horses bidding to do themselves justice at both meetings, but tougher on those who relish watching them run.
And so instead of racing fans constantly replying to requests for a tip in the big one from anyone they have ever met (be thankful for small mercies), we will be looking at Kelso and Kempton – where an 8-1 winner pays exactly the same as at the big spring festivals.
It was Einstein who said "in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity", and it is upon the picturesque Borders course and Sunbury's sand – two tracks that perfectly represent the lifeblood of this great sport – that opportunity, and the ITV4 cameras, will shine.
It is a chance for a countryside community course and all-weather racing to showcase the delights of a day at the races available any day of the week.
The big meetings sell themselves; this is a chance for the smaller courses to do the same. Kelso is an irregular host of terrestrial cameras, and ITV will not sell it short.
The whole team have been dispatched, along with a drone. With snow still on the mountains and sunshine forecast it should capture the Borders sparkling in a way few parts of the world can. Kelso's next meeting is a short price to play host to more tourists turned on to the place by Saturday's broadcast.
For their part, the Special Ks have stepped up. Kelso's seven-race card is worth more than £166,000 – and has attracted the sort of quality fields you would expect for that kind of money with yards from the West Country and the northern parts of Scotland tempted to travel – while Kempton is worth £13,000 more and features the Listed Betfred 'Home Of Goals Galore' Snowdrop Fillies' Stakes.
The Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Chase is the feature at Kelso. Yala Enki, Baywing, Wild West Wind and Chic Name will tackle the extended three-mile-two-furlong trip, 19 fences, six other runners and heavy ground for the £50,000 pot.
It is a race Yala Enki won last year, on similar ground but off a 6lb lower mark. Seldom Inn, sent off the 2-1 favourite that day, was beaten seven lengths into second but is now rated 6lb lower for a 12lb swing.
Brian Hughes, who rides Seldom Inn, has been Kelso's dominant force over the last five seasons with 47 winners – 20 more than anyone else – and he teams up with the course's leading trainer in that time, Donald McCain, with Hills Of Dubai and Lastbutnotleast, who runs in the famous Red Rum silks.
And they are not the only silks worth looking out for. Tom Strawson rides Duhallow Tornado, who runs in the closing hunter chase after the ITV cameras have left, while wearing what can only be described as a snazzy outfit.
Smart Call's two-tone black-and-yellow silks are not as extravagant, but her seasonal return in the Snowdrop could still mark a significant and growing relationship.
In 2015 Jim Crowley did not have a single ride for Sir Michael Stoute; the following year they teamed up for four winners from ten rides. Last year only Ryan Moore rode more winners than Crowley's 14 (from 58 rides) for Stoute. It will be fascinating to watch that situation develop.
The Betfred 'Watch Sky Sports In Our Shops' Queen's Prize closes the Kempton card, with the William Knight-trained Author's Dream and the Alan King-trained Inn The Bull searching for a fourth consecutive win.
They may not be superstars, but even Aintree may struggle to feature a clash between two horses on that sort of streak.
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