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Richest meeting of the year for racecourse

IT will be Warwick’s richest raceday of the year on Saturday when the £100,000 Wigley Group Classic Chase, broadcast live on ITV, is the highlight of an eight-race card, reports David Hucker.

Having lost both meetings in December, racecourse officials will be hoping for a big crowd for what is always a great afternoon of racing with this year’s meeting boosted by the £75,000 Unibet Veterans’ Handicap Chase (Series Final), re-scheduled from last weekend’s abandoned Sandown Park meeting, which opens the card at 12.08pm.

Amongst the 21 entries for the feature race is Monbeg Genius, trained by Jonjo O’Neill, who looked destined to win a big prize after his run behind Corach Rambler, subsequent winner of the Randox Grand National, and Fastorslow at last season’s Cheltenham Festival. On his first run of this season, Monbeg Genius was pulled up at Ascot after making a bad mistake but put that behind him when a strong-staying third in Newbury’s Coral Gold Cup, after which bookmakers installed the eight-year-old as favourite for the Coral Welsh Grand National.

A setback meant that Monbeg Genius missed the Chepstow marathon, which was run in very testing conditions, and it could prove a blessing in disguise if it sets him up for Saturday’s feature in which he would race from the same handicap mark as at Newbury.

Monbeg Genius was installed as 5/1 joint favourite by Betfair on the release of entries on Monday, along with Beauport, who has since drifted to 7/1, and Guetapan Collonges, trained at Over Norton by Charlie Longsdon, who was fourth to Iwilldoit in last year’s race.

The progressive Broadway Boy, who is on a hat-trick after two wins at Cheltenham, headed the early market for the second most-valuable race of the day, the Grade 2 Trustatrader Hampton Novices’ Chase also worth £75,000. The trip of three miles will be right up his street, but he could face some stiff competition including Dan Skelton’s Grey Dawning and the Scottish-trained mare Apple Away, although she has an alternative engagement nearer to home at Wetherby.

The Wigley Community Fund Open National Hunt Flat Race, in which Warwickshire trainers Olly Murphy and Dan Skelton both have two amongst the 24 entries, brings a busy afternoon to a close at 4.05pm.

The races will be run on fresh ground, which hasn’t been used since September, in the hope of beating the weather which has seen frost replace rain as the threat to racing this week.

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