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Woods aiming for a quick double as racing returns to Stratford

Stratford Racecourse stages the finale to the hunters' steeplechase events on Friday evening.
Stratford Racecourse stages the finale to the hunters' steeplechase events on Friday evening.

WHAT a difference a few days of sunshine can make as, having had to abandon the scheduled opening two fixtures through waterlogging, clerk of the course Nessie Chanter has been watering the Stratford track ahead of Sunday’s Tote sponsored curtain-raiser for the new campaign, writes David Hucker.

All seven races have attracted good-size fields, offering each-way betting on the first three home.

Nine will line up in the opening £20 Free Bets At totesport.com “Confined” Handicap Chase over two-and-a-half miles, restricted to horses that have run in at least three handicap chases over the last year, but not won any race under Rules.

With no horses boasting recent winning form, it looks a wide-open contest and, if there is one who deserves to get his head in front, it’s Kayf Blanco, runner-up on his last two starts, but raised 1lb in the weights for chasing home Vocaliser at Kempton Park last month.

Jockey Kielan Woods could make it a quick double, as he partners Crafty Roberto for Northamptonshire trainer Alex Hales in the following Totepool Cashback Club At totesport.com Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Three times a winner over hurdles, Crafty Roberto has been knocking on the door over fences and races from the same handicap mark as when jumping well to finish runner-up to Lickpenny Larry last time.

The consistent Fizzlestix can bounce back to winning form in the third for conditional jockey Harry Reed, who has notched up 16 winners this season.

Successful in a small race at Fontwell Park last month, Fizzlestix races from just a 3lb higher mark here and should give his backers a run for their money.

There is another good prize fund on offer in the Irish Lotto At totesport.com Mares’ Handicap Hurdle over two miles and Passing Call, runner-up in her last five outings, might just get her head in front at last.

Despite her consistency, it will still take bit of faith to back her, as she has twice been beaten when an odds-on favourite and has to give plenty of weight to Hijran, who has not been over-burdened for her win at Bangor-on-Dee.

Dan Skelton ran away with the prize for leading trainer at the course in 2017, with Royal Beekeeper making it 12 winners in all when scoring at the last meeting of the season.

Skelton has been in prolific form throughout the current campaign, having passed the 150 winner mark, and will be looking to add to his tally with Marley Firth in the Novices’ Hurdle.

However, he will find Secret Investor a tough nut to crack and this point-to-point winner can open his account under Rules at the sixth time of asking for trainer Paul Nicholls, who went into the weekend looking to close the gap on Nicky Henderson with just one week of the trainers’ championship to run.

The Last Bridge will appreciate every yard of the three and a half mile trip of the day’s longest race, the Bet In Play At totesport.com Handicap Chase.

He ran well behind the progressive Alberto’s Dream at Warwick, but will find the drying ground counting against him this time and it may pay to take a chance with the mare Upbeat Cobbler, who continues to drop down the handicap.

It was only by half a length that Abricot De L’Oasis went down in a point-to-point at Lockinge on his last run and he is taken to land the concluding Hunter Chase.

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