The first meeting of 2018 at Larkhill has been rewarded with a huge entry of 193 horses which has resulted in two of the six races being split at entry and the first race time has been brought forward to 11.00am. The going is currently reported as being good so there is a high expectation that there will be a large turn-out of runners on the day. The quality of the racing will be high with both Open races looking very competitive so if you are looking for somewhere to finally blow away the Christmas and New Year cobwebs then Salisbury Plain is just the place. Do make sure to wrap up warm as the weather can be challenging at Larkhill but access is good with plenty of room for parking and an excellent view of the racecourse from the car park.
The Club Conditions race which starts proceedings at 11.00am has already been divided into two races and on the basis of this season's form Chasforgold a winner at Barbury Castle for Sam Jukes looks likely to be the one to support. Others to consider are the Philip Rowley trained Namako winner of three of his races last season, Flights who should come on for her run at Barbury Castle, Sonny the One trained by Will Biddick who was not disgraced at Wadebridge and Cousin Pete who on his best form from two seasons ago would be a leading player.
The second division of the Club Conditions race may go to Princely Player who only went down by a neck in a similar race at the last Larkhill meeting. As he was having his first race for nearly a year Karen Hobbs's gelding is entitled to improve on that outing. Potential dangers are the veteran Colbert Station winner of five races when owned by J P McManus, Pink Eyed Pedro who will improve for his seasonal debut at Wadebridge, Templebraden who ran in Open races last season and Superior Fire who was very consistent last season.
The Ladies Open race sponsored by We Do Vans.Com could see an exciting race with the winner from the previous Larkhill meeting Caid du Berlais set to be opposed by course specialist Aikideau who will be ridden by new jockey Aine O'Connor for trainer Jade Barber. Added to the mix are the Cheltenham Hunter Chase winner Woodfleet, the prolific Dicky Bob who will be partnered by Jo Supple (nee Buck), the Stratford Ladies Hunter Chase winner Dabinett Moon and the enigmatic Sybarite as well as Big Casino who was third in the highly competitive Mixed Open at Barbury Castle. A race worth savouring Woodfleet is tentatively chosen to continue his upward curve.
The Open Maiden sponsored by Cottage Field Stables is the other race that has already been divided at entry. The first division may go to Danseur du Large already placed in two Maiden races this season for trainer Ed Walker but the sponsor's entry of Energumene should be noted as the trainer does have a good record with newcomers. Others to consider are Toby Maguire placed fourth in an Irish Maiden and now with Charles Levinson, Oscars Cross a half-brother to the prolific Giles Cross and Troed Y Melin already placed in four Maiden races.
Division Two of the Maiden race features both of the runners up from the two Maiden races at the December meeting. Swincombe Toby from Sally Alner's stable and Three in One from Jade Barber's yard may fight out the finish between them with the former tipped to come out on top. However Sophie Lacey's newcomer Sebastopol out of a six time winning mare may be the one to watch along with the ex- Dan Skelton trained Dragon De La Tour and the ex -Irish Marcle Ridge who finished second in his only start to date.
The Mens Open race sponsored by Southern Counties Auctioneers has attracted the biggest entry of 34 horses. Another high quality race is promised here with the standout entries being the prolific Broken Eagle from Alan Hill's yard, the very promising Facile Bien owned by Robert Waley-Cohen, the consistent Premier Portrait and the winner of last season's Coronation Gold Cup Brackloon High. Monsieur Gibraltar won well at the last meeting and may put his fitness to good use. Real Milan usually runs well at Larkhill and if Woodfleet opts for this race rather than the Ladies then the hint should be taken.
The Restricted race sponsored by Woolley and Wallis looks a difficult race to solve. Irish Legionnaire broke his Maiden status at the last meeting and should improve. Both Ka Maresco and Baltazar du Seuil won their last outings in 2017 at Kingston Blount and Upcott Cross respectively and are also on the upgrade. Vouvray won a point in Ireland in November 2016 before being sold very cheaply last August. Castle Cheetah had some good form when trained by Ben Pauling in 2016 but has not been seen since and Lively Article the winner of a Maiden at Brafield-on-the-Green both come into consideration. A chance is taken with the lightly raced Florella who was placed in two Restricted races last season for trainer Nick Pearce.
The Novice Riders race sponsored by Symonds and Sampson with Frome Livestock Auctioneers completes the day's racing. Real Milan if bypassing the Mens Open looks one for the shortlist along with Top Chief who does well in these races, Creepy who won three races last season and the ex-Tim Underwood trained Too Late To Sell who won three races last season. Thereyarsee runs well at Larkhill and will have a new rider in Gordon Tracy who works for Jade Barber and this combination might be the answer to a tricky event.
Larkhill Racecourse is to be found 5m NW of Amesbury, Nr A303, A345 and A360 – Postcode SP4 8QT. First Race 11.00 am. Entry Costs £10 per person.