3.30 Lingfield – ZE KING (nap)
This looks a fairly competitive handicap in which the majority of the field either come in here in good form or have not long since tasted success, and there is also a wholly unexposed four-year-old making its handicap debut after hinting at ability in a trio of runs in maiden company.
The selection is a Chris Wall-trained son of Manduro who is a half brother to a handful of winners, notably the smart sprinter Anne Of Kiev and fairly useful 7-10f Flat/2m 4f hurdle winner Big Robert, but he offered little in a pair of 1m maidens at Yarmouth and Nottingham towards the end of the 2011 season, never involved at any stage on either occasion but spared a hard race both times (beaten over 50 lengths in total). However, he offered a lot more on what transpired to be his only run of the season in a course and distance maiden last May, going off an 80/1 chance; raced close to the action and was ridden along over two furlongs out, attempting to challenge until fading approaching the final furlong to finish in seventh behind Inthar (beaten 11 lengths). He has been off for almost eight months since then and returns in quite a decent contest, but his opening mark of 66 looks attractive and he looked the sort physically who would do well given time; stable noted for its prowess with these unexposed types stepping into handicap company for the first time, and this thrice-raced gelding is open to significant improvement now moving into this sphere, so it would come as no surprise to see this son of Manduro make a winning return to action here.
The Sir Mark Prescott-trained Neige D’Antan took a while to get her act together, duly improving on her previous three attempts in maidens when third on her handicap debut but failing to get off the mark for another six outings, doing so in a 10f handicap at Kempton in September and going close to following up a month or so later at Wolverhampton from a similar mark. She went one better over the same course and distance six days later when accounting for Taro Tywood before being run down late by Bridge That Gap back at Kempton next time; found one too good on her next two starts prior to returning to winning ways off a career high mark of 62 back at Wolverhampton, and her latest effort saw her nabbed on the line by Royal Sea over the same course and distance. She has become a model of consistency over the past few months and was unfortunate not to add to her tally last time, and it isn’t too difficult to see her playing a leading role once again here.
The Gary Moore-trained Whinging Willie was on verge of becoming a bitter disappointment prior to his victory in what has proven to be a very strong 1m handicap at Kempton last month, breaking his duck at the 16th attempt at the expense of Aragorn Rouge in a race where the next five home have all won since, and this gelding landed the odds in ultimately decisive fashion on the day. He has since acquitted himself well in defeat, unlucky not to follow up in an extended 1m handicap at Wolverhampton next time when collared on the line by Inffiraaj; two more runs since then in 1m handicaps here have seen him finishing off his races well from hold up positions, and it comes as no surprise to see him now upped in distance. His strike-rate remains modest (1-19), but he is currently in the form of his career and has shaped the last twice as though worth a go at this 10f trip; will need things to drop right, but certainly not out of this if running up to his best and staying the extra distance.
The Alison Hutchinson-trained Strike Force is a centurion who showed the fires still burn brightly when landing an extended 1m 1f handicap at Wolverhampton nine days ago, close to the action throughout and leading approaching the final furlong, staying on best to see off the challenge of One Scoop Or Two by a neck. That victory followed on from a succession of solid efforts, including a course and distance win last November, but he didn’t have an awful lot in reserve last time off what was his highest winning mark, and he now has to carry a 6lbs penalty for that success; dangerous to rule out altogether in his current mood, but no surprise to his penalty halt any follow up attempt against younger rivals.
The Violet Jordan-trained Brown Pete struck form with a vengeance at the end of last year, rattling a quickfire hat trick within a week, including twice here (once over course and distance) and winning with a bit in hand each time under penalties, but his two efforts since then have suggested the handicapper may have caught up with him, admittedly keen on his four-timer bid but ultimately well beaten. He fared a little better on his most recent start, sticking on inside the final furlong to come home in fourth behind Avertis in a 1m handicap here; still in decent form, despite the fact he is now handicapped to his best, and he shaped last time as though a return to this distance would suit, but may find one or two too good for him once again off the same mark (67) as his last two runs.
The Laura Mongan-trained Norfolk Sky started life with Chris Wall and won a pair of handicaps for him at Yarmouth (1m 1f) and Wolverhampton (12f), but she left that stable via a win in a seller at Kempton (11f) and turned in a laboured effort on her first run for new connections next time. However, she resumed winning ways with victory in a 12f handicap here last month, staying on well throughout the final furlong to get the better of Lady Bellatrix by a neck, and didn’t disgrace herself when fourth in a similar contest 11 days later off a 4lbs higher mark. Aside from her first run for current connections, she has enjoyed a period of real consistency and ought not to be too inconvenienced by the step back in distance; not hard to see her involved at the business end of matters here.