This could be another master stroke from handicapping guru, Tony Martin. A 94-rated handicapper on the flat, the Irish raider could be thrown in here off a mark off 125 with the talented up-and-coming rider, Donagh Meyler, taking off another 3lbs. He hasn’t been seen over hurdles since winning the Lartigue Hurdle at Listowel almost fifteen months ago. He absolutely trounced his rivals that day and form of that race has worked out really well. The second home, Tigris River, was a close fifth in this years’ Galway Hurdle while both the third and fourth, Time for Mabel and Copy That respectively, are now running off over a stone higher. Most importantly, however, that performance told us that he is an impeccable jumper and has no problems with underfoot conditions.
Between then and now, he has been steadily improving on the flat. He won two premier handicaps, the latest being the fiercely competitive November Handicap at Leopardstown. He hasn’t been seen since and it’s likely that Martin plotted this £150,000 contest some time ago. Given the connections involved, it was no surprise to see him being heavily supported during the week. That being said, he still represents fantastic each-way value here at 6/1. I can easily picture him being a Group performer on the level next term and if he is able to translate his recent flat form to hurdles, he has to have an outstanding chance.
Modus came close to winning two big handicaps on his previous two starts. Both of which were two excellent efforts in which he lost little in defeat. This could be a case of third time lucky for the Paul Nicholls trained six-year-old. He was desperately unlucky here on his seasonal debut when third in the William Hill Handicap Hurdle in October. There was very little between the first five that day and had the winning post been fifty yards further, he probably would have won. He encountered traffic-problems at a vital stage, but doggedly stuck to the cause to finish with a late rattle on the run-in. His next start in the Greatwood Hurdle was equally as encouraging. Racing on ground softer than ideal, he only found the potentially very smart, North Hill Harvey too good. He fought out a titanic battle with that rival up the hill, in which the winner had the benefit of the standside rail.
Both of those starts have brought him up from a rating of 139 to 145, but that may not be enough to cap his progression. It’s worth remembering that he was a high-class bumper performer, culminating in a fine second-placed effort in the 2015 Champion Bumper. He then went on to disappoint the following season, under-performing in both the Betfair Hurdle and the County Hurdle. Nonetheless, he has bounced back since. The good to soft ground should be ideal for him and he has already shown a liking for the track. It is also encouraging to see Paul Nicholls remove the hood this time. He raced rather keenly in the past, but his two starts this season have seen him settle a lot better. With the likes of Sternrubin and Rayvin Black in the field, there should be a strong early gallop. This should help him get into a good rhythm from the offset. I am expecting him to be bang there at the finish.
It should also be taken as significant that he is the choice of JP McManus’ retained rider, Barry Geraghty. Geraghty could have easily favoured the potentially very well-handicapped Consul De Thaix, but has decided to pledge his allegiance to the Ditcheat runner instead.
Ascot - 3:35
Back Golden Spear EW @ 6/1
Back Modus EW @ 8/1
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