OUR racing man Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) picks out his best bets in the opening Saturday of 2017.
13:15 Sandown | ITV4
A 2 and a half mile handicap chase and despite the large field it's not a race I think will take a great deal of winning. Only two of these won last time out and there are a lot of letters on display in the formlines so it may pay to look towards the head of the market.
Mystifiable won a couple of chases last season and was sent off favourite for a decent handicap at Aintree where he was pulled up. On his return to action he was well beaten in a decent Newbury chase and should be fitter here. He brings a good level of form into this however he takes on a couple of unexposed sorts here and I'm happy to oppose him in this.
Atirelarigo is a French recruit for the Philip Hobbs yard and rewarded connections with a win at Chepstow last time on only his fourth start in the UK. Though he had to work hard for his victory that day he is likely to improve further and has to be respected here. However in his short career on these shores he's shown a tendency to make a few mistakes and he'll need to brush up on his jumping if he is to win again today.
Merican Prince is another French recruit for the up and coming Amy Murphy yard and she is a trainer I really like. He's had two starts on these shores and he's already got a victory and a second place to his name.
Last time out he won at Southwell, and although it's not a top track he was a ready winner and looked a horse to follow. He has a big weight to carry however he is the least exposed and most exciting runner in the field and I will be backing him to win this.
14:25 Sandown | ITV4
The Tolworth Hurdle is upon us and it's one of the big pointers towards the top novice hurdler races in the Spring and this is an interesting renewal. In a field of just six only four of these have won over hurdles and a lot of guess work is required solving this puzzle.
Celestial Path makes his hurdling debut here at the highest level and he is one of the better flat recruits we've seen this year. He strikes me as an interesting addition to this sphere however this is surely an impossible task however I will be watching him closely here.
Finians Oscar won on his debut for trainer of the moment Colin Tizzard and he was an impressive winner. There is a big gulf between a Hereford novice and a Grade 1 however he is clearly well regarded and without much in terms of established form in the book from any of the runners here could be good enough today.
However as much as there isn't a great deal of form to go on Capitaine has a Grade 2 win to his name and will be a tough nut to crack here. His win at Ascot last time out sets a good standard and he has everything you look for in a novice.
He jumps well, is uncomplicated and will expose any weaknesses in his rivals jumping. He looks like he will stay further in time and I expect Sam Twiston Davies to try and make every yard today.
13:15 Sandown – Merican Prince to win (9/2 BetVictor)
14:25 Sandown – Capitaine to win (13/8 Coral)
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