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The 2014 Welsh National winner Emperor’s Choice came back to form last time and, though it’s asking a lot of him to have recovered from those exertions in just two-weeks, he has won back-to-back races off a shorter-break in the past. He also relishes heavy ground, which he’s not had when pulled-up in the last two renewals off marks of 141 and 139. However, just like the 2013 and 2015 winner Mountainous, he could double-up off a mark of 128 having won off 131 in 2014. Charlie Deutsch also takes a further 3lb off his back.
Favourites have a great recent record in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle with 5 of the last 8 winning, and Western Ryder is expected to make it 6 out of 9. The Warren Greatrex trained 6-year-old finished top-5 in both the Cheltenham Festival and Aintree Festival Bumpers last season, and his two wins over hurdles have earned him the highest-rating of this field. Those two wins also proved he relished testing ground, and he will hopefully be too tough at the business end for his five rivals. Having Champion Jockey Richard Johnson in the saddle on heavy ground is another plus.
Tip: Western Ryder win @ 7/4 WilliamHill, BetVictor
This could be a big day for trainer Venetia Williams (also trainer Emperor’s Choice) as Houblon Des Obeaux looks nicely treated off 143 here, just 2lb higher than when scoring over course and distance two starts ago. Rated as high as 160 at his best, but sometimes let down by his jumping, the booking of Noel Fehily for the first time really catches the eye.
Tip: Houblon Des Obeaux each-way @ 10/1 SkyBet (5 places) or 10/1 Betfair (4 places)
5 of the 7 winners of this race have carried less than 11-0, and the fact Our Merlin has to carry just 10-6 (less claimer’s 7lb allowance) gives hope that he can complete a four-timer even though he takes a massive step-up in grade and in the ratings. Happy to led or sit behind the leaders, he should be well-suited to Sandown.
Tip: Our Merlin win @ 5/1 Coral, Ladbrokes, BetVictor
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