Haydock preview: Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (15.25)
The big betting race on a cracking mixed card at Haydock today is the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (15.25), and Handiwork looks decent each-way value in a wide-open and competitive contest.
This Stuart Gollings trained gelding was a smart juvenile hurdler, winning twice, and also ran a cracker 15 months ago when chasing home Astra De La Cour at Ascot.
Handiwork was attempting to give the winner 8lb, and Astra De La Cour has gone on to land a very competitive 21-runner handicap hurdle at Aintree this year off a mark of 135.
In the circumstances it was an excellent effort and, following a couple of lengthy spells on the sidelines, the five-year-old has posted two solid efforts to show that he retains plenty of ability and should be capable of winning races off a rating of 139.
Handiwork got chinned on the line and beaten a head in the first of those over course and distance, and backed that up with an excellent 3 1/4 length fourth of 14 to Cheltenian at Aintree last month.
The son of Motivator stayed on in tremendous style to be gaining all the way to the line in the latter and now meets the winner on 5lb better terms.
That may well be enough to turn the tables, especially as this contest is usually run at a break neck gallop which will be ideal for Handiwork and bring his stamina into play.
There are plenty of possible dangers, and Arzal could well emerge as the biggest.
The Harry Whittington trained gelding has won two out of just five starts over hurdles, and after slamming the highly regarded West Wizard by seven lengths at Kempton went on to run a blinder to finish sixth of 23 to Violet Dancer in the valuable Betfair Hurdle at Newbury off an opening handicap mark of 139.
Although beaten 14 3/4 lengths, Arzal got badly hampered at a crucial stage before staying on again to be nearest at the finish and was arguably unlucky not to finish in the frame.
The five-year-old is now able to race in this off 3lb lower, having been given a nice confidence boosting win last time out in a minor event at Chepstow.
That makes Arzal look on a handy mark, especially as he remains unexposed and open to significant further improvement.