Pipe unleashes progressive mare Shaama Grise over fences at Plumpton
The last three runnings of Monday's Plumpton novice chase (1.10) have been little more than walkovers for the favourites, returned at 2-5, 1-5 and 1-4 in fields of four, three and four.
The race, a qualifier for the Cheltenham Festival bonus to win £60,000, is again small but far more select than previously, as there is an intriguing three-way battle between French imports for whom there are higher aspirations.
Even favouritism is not a given with an intriguing conundrum of Optimus Prime, an impressive chasing debut winner last month, facing debuting mare Shaama Grise, who gets 12lb in total with her mare’s allowance and her rival’s penalty.
David Pipe has described Shaama Grise as “a progressive mare” who missed a Bangor entry last Saturday to wait for this race with which Plumpton tempts connections with the Cheltenham bonus.
Lurking in the wings is San Pedro De Senam, the latest of local trainer Gary Moore’s contenders trying to emulate his previous winners Violet Dancer two years ago and Chris Pea Green the year before.
This four-year-old is another recruit from France – Moore having done so well with such runners in recent years – and was set a stiff task when taking on Sceau Royale in a match at Warwick first time over fences in Britain.
Mullaghboy chasing follow-up at Fakenham
Mullaghboy lines up in the opening 2m4f handicap hurdle (1.00) for what will be his third consecutive outing at Fakenham, 13 days after he won for the first time in a 2m contest.
Beaten out of sight in a three-runner race over Monday's trip back in October, he bounced back last time with a win over the shorter distance, with the application of a tongue-tie for the first time perhaps the key factor in the turnaround in fortunes.
Lewis Stones did the steering on that occasion but champion Richard Johnson takes over this time, with the handicapper having put the six-year-old up only 2lb.
Another win would continue the fine recent run for his trainer Olly Murphy, who continues to impress at this early stage of his career. Murphy has saddled eight runners since November 24 and only one has finished outside the first three, with three winning.
Five rivals will be attempting to prevent Mullaghboy's double, including Mamoo, who suggested he had the stamina for this trip when trying it for the first time at Fakenham in October.
Mullaghboy's stablemate Clay Allison also features but has not been setting the world alight in three starts for his latest trainer so far.
Gosden hoping to cash in with Cashla
John Gosden puts one of his best course strike-rates on the line when he sends the disappointing Cashla Bay to Southwell for the feature Betway Sprint Handicap (1.50).
There are two or three tracks at which the stable enjoys an even better ratio of winners-to-runners, but they tend to be those to which Gosden runners venture only once or twice a year.
While not exactly Southwell regulars, they are three from five for a 60 per cent strike-rate in 2017 and nine from 17 for 53 per cent in the last five years, although most admittedly will have travelled with more obvious prospects than Cashla Bay.
Today's modest handicap is probably not quite what connections had in mind when the 220,000gns Fastnet Rock filly won her maiden at Newmarket last October but, with time running out for 2017, it would provide some compensation for a campaign that suffered a long interruption in mid-summer. First-time blinkers are added to the tongue-tie Cashla Bay wore when sixth at Newcastle on her all-weather debut.
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