JUNCTION Fourteen goes in search of a hat-trick this afternoon as he bids to continue his rapid progress in the William Hill Lanzarote Hurdle on a Kempton card oozing quality.
Not disgraced when fifth in a Wincanton bumper in the spring, the Emma Lavelle-trained five-year-old was third on his hurdling debut at Exeter before edging out Cloud Creeper by a head in a Fontwell thriller in late November. He made a mockery of an initial handicap mark of 121 when scoring by 11 lengths over course and distance on Boxing Day and although the handicapper has bumped him up over a stone in the weights, Lavelle is hopeful of another bold show.
She said: “He’s just turned five, he’s run a few times and comes back better and stronger each time, so under the circumstances it’s right to have a crack at a decent handicap and see where we are. He’s done it there (at Kempton) already. He’s gone up 16lb, this is a better race and he’s carrying more weight. Well see, but hopefully he’s improving.”
Nicky Henderson relies on River Maigue, a talented novice hurdler last term and an encouraging third on his seasonal bow at Sandown a month ago. The champion trainer’s string have tended to improve significantly for their first runs this season and the master of Seven Barrows is hoping River Maigue follows the trend. Henderson said: “He ran well at Sandown and hopefully he’s improved for that.
Henderson’s great rival Paul Nicholls is represented by Saphir Du Rheu, who is rated 15lb higher than when bolting up at Sandown. His owner Andy Stewart said: “I won this race a few years ago with Nycteos, who carried 10st 10lb, and this is another horse who could be a top-class chaser. He’s got a lot of weight to carry but Harry Derham should take a useful few pounds off and the Lanzarote is the Lanzarote, so you’ve got to go for it.”
The Charlie Longsdon-trained Spirit Of Shankly won a strong novice hurdle at Haydock on his latest appearance, beating subsequent winner Urban Hymn. Longsdon said: “Running in a handicap could suit him and he’ll have no problems with the ground.”
David Pipe’s Home Run is among the market principals, but the Pond House handler is not all that confident about his chances. He said: “He’d have a small each-way chance, I’d suppose.”
Leading jockey Richard Johnson believes the williamhill.com Chase is a good opportunity for Captain Chris to secure an overdue victory. The 10-year-old has not visited the winner’s enclosure since landing Ascot’s Amlin 1965 Chase in November 2012, but has run some tremendous races in defeat. “He ran very well in the Peterborough on his first run of the season and hopefully he goes back to Kempton with a very strong chance on Saturday,” said Johnson.
Captain Chris heads a six-runner field, with Willie Mullins’ Irish raider Twinlight a fascinating contender. The seven-year-old has won at Naas and Cork so far this season and Ireland’s champion trainer admits he has been surprised by his progress. Mullins said: “Twinlight just keeps on surprising me. Every time I think he faces a stiff task, he pulls out a bit more. I hope he carries on improving, as this looks a good race.”
Martin Keighley is hoping stable star Champion Court can finally get his season up and running, Mullins is also keen to find out where Upazo ranks in his talented crop of novice hurdlers by letting him line up in the re-routed williamhill.com Levy Board Tolworth Hurdle.
Mullins said: “Upazo is rated very high by the handicapper over in Ireland, and in England, too, so it’s a case of running him to see where he fits in really.”
Upazo is the only Irish-trained participant in a field of seven declared runners.
Heading the home team is David Pipe’s The Liquidator, who won the Grade One bumper at the Punchestown Festival last season and has been hugely impressive in scoring at Carlisle and Cheltenham over timber. The Pond House handler is looking forward to seeing his charge test the water at Grade One level, but admits switching the Tolworth from last weekend’s abandoned Sandown meeting to an easier track like Kempton may not be in his favour.
Pipe said: “I think it would have suited him more had it taken place at Sandown last week as it’s a more galloping track, but we’re keen to seen where we stand. This race will answer a lot of questions, not just for us but for everybody.”
Henderson is double-handed with Josses Hill (Barry Geraghty) and Royal Boy (Tony McCoy).
Trainer Martin Keighley has declared Creepy for the Tolworth, but confirmed the horse will go to Warwick for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick on Saturday.
“I think the trip will be perfect and he won’t mind the ground. The Tolworth looks red-hot,” said the Condicote handler.