Opening Batsman tasked with getting off the mark at first try in hunter chases
Britain's 2018 hunter chase season gets under way at Taunton on Tuesday, with the Harry Fry-trained Opening Batsman – who has won more than £130,000 for owners the Twelfth Man Partnership – among ten runners in the 2m7f event (3.20).
The 12-year-old has not been seen since winning a three-runner handicap chase at Fontwell in April but his trainer reported him to be in good form for his hunter chase debut.
He said: "He's ready to go and has been a very good servant to us. The owners felt it would be kinder to go hunter chasing with him as he's turned 12, won two handicaps in the spring and his mark would have risen as a result.
"It was always the plan. We're not necessarily thinking about the Foxhunter [at Cheltenham] but hopefully he'll be competitive in this sphere."
Taunton would not be the same without a Paul Nicholls runner and the Ditcheat trainer will be represented by Unioniste, who makes his second start since being bought by amateur rider David Maxwell last year. The ten-year-old has some strong form to his name, including a Listed chase success at Aintree in 2013.
Max returns after three-year absence
Connections of Max Milan are being rewarded for their patience as the nine-year-old makes just his second start – and first for over three years – in the 3m maiden hurdle at Taunton (1.05).
Of his representative, who finished sixth in an Ascot maiden hurdle in December 2014, trainer David Arbuthnot said: "The fact he's been off for so long means the run will do him good. He's obviously had his problems but he seems well."
Arbuthnot added he expected the ground at the Somerset track – described as soft, good to soft in places on Monday – to be taxing.
"With the drying ground it could be sticky and tiring, so the horses may get quite tired," he said.
Southwell specialist back for more
Jack The Truth arrives in top form having twice scored in emphatic fashion at Southwell and hopes are high that George Scott's runner can make it a quick-fire hat-trick as he returns to the Fibresand in the 6f handicap (2.20).
"I've been very pleased with him since his last run," Scott said. "He loves the surface – he's the sort of horse who takes one stride on it when others take two.
"It's a step up in grade but I'm hopeful and expecting him to run well. He could run later this week if the race goes to plan, but it's one step at a time."
Golden opportunity for Rene's Girl
The 2m4½f Listed mares' chase (2.00) is the highlight of a decent card at Doncaster, although the track – which is described as frozen in places but improving – must pass a 7am inspection.
Initially set to be run on Doncaster's card on December 29 which was called off due to frozen ground, the £30,000 race attracted six declarations but the field has been reduced to five following the withdrawal of Nicky Henderson's classy mare Casablanca Mix, who would have started favourite on the back of falling at the final fence with the race at her mercy at Exeter last month.
In her absence the Dan Skelton-trained Rene's Girl, who was an impressive winner on her chasing debut at Worcester before finishing third at Listed level at Bangor last time, heads the official ratings by 17lb and is the one to beat.
Elsewhere on the card, the exciting Ravenhill Road will attempt to maintain his unbeaten record in the novice hurdle (1.25), while Sam Red clashes with Mount Mews in the opening three-runner novice chase (11.55).
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