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Lancashire Telegraph Racing Column
8:54am Sunday 2nd March 2014 in Sport
David Pipe's Thomas Junior has been shaping as if he is not far off winning and has his best chance to date in the On The Move With Atacanter Horseboxes Handicap Hurdle (Jockey Club Grassroots Series Qualifier) at Huntingdon.
Placed in two bumpers, the Dai Walters-owned five-year-old has also run well on his two starts over hurdles to date.
On the first of those he raced over two and a half miles at Doncaster and while he ran a nice enough race in fourth, it was pretty decent ground and he was a little outpaced.
Pipe then dropped him back down to two miles in heavy ground and he looked like he needed further as he stayed on into third.
Now he has two and a half miles and testing ground so it will stretch his stamina to the limit, but he looks the one runner in the field capable of better than he has shown to date.
Jonjo O'Neill's Benzel shaped encouragingly on his hurdling debut at Doncaster considering he was sent off at 33-1.
He won an Irish point-to-point by five lengths in December, after which JP McManus paid £55,000 and he will have been encouraged by what he witnessed on Town Moor.
The stewards looked into his performance as Dougie Costello appeared not to make much effort once he was passed over the final few obstacles, but it was reported Benzel was coughing after the race which partly explains why he weakened.
He travelled quite strongly at the head of affairs for most of the way, though, and it was a strong contest won by Vaniteux.
Given he is over his ailments, he can show the benefit of that run in the 32Red Casino Maiden Hurdle.
Having been given plenty of time to get over his gruelling win at Market Rasen, Acrai Rua can strike again in the Wills Property Services Ltd Handicap Chase at Sedgefield.
What he needs is a real stamina test and he certainly got that last time as only three finished.
He can be a bit in-and-out and has struggled off marks this high in the past, but not many will handle a stamina test such as this.
Mitchell's Way appeared to have lost his way before winning a jumpers bumper last time out and can defy top weight in the Wraggs Seafoods Ltd Handicap Chase.
He had been in good form over hurdles last season and looked a prime candidate to make up into a better chaser.
However, his two initial forays into that sphere were not very promising as he was beaten a long way.
Given a confidence booster at Southwell, however, he displayed all his old verve, travelling well before pulling away to win nicely.
That effort should do wonders for his self belief and as he has actually jumped fairly well, he must stand a chance.
HUNTINGDON: 2.00 Spyder, 2.30 Ratify, 3.00 THOMAS JUNIOR (NAP), 3.30 Lively Baron, 4.00 No No Charlie, 4.30 Benzel, 5.00 No No Romeo LEOPARDSTOWN: 2.20 Shamsikhan, 2.50 Thousand Stars, 3.20 Star Of Aragon, 3.50 Mallowney, 4.20 Home Farm, 4.50 Easy Vic, 5.20 Off The Mark.
SEDGEFIELD: 2.10 Slipper Satin, 2.40 Brae On, 3.10 Mitchell's Way, 3.40 Vasco D'Ycy, 4.10 Acrai Rua, 4.40 Bocamix, 5.10 Bryden Boy.
DOUBLE: Thomas Junior and Benzel.
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