13:05 Navan

GRACCHUS DE BALME (best price 5-2) was unlucky to bump into two above-average novices’ in a hot little contest over today’s C&D a month ago, and without seemingly any great strength in depth in this version, Joseph O’Brien’s inmate is taken to make a breakthrough under rules.

A point winner for Kieran Purcell, the son of Manbolix made his rules debut in a bumper at Fairyhouse and although he didn’t exactly set the world alight, he ran with enough promise for connections to hold out plenty of hope for the future. Off for 280 days, the six-year-old returned to the fray in what appeared a useful novice hurdle at the Co Meath venue and having cut out the running for most of the 2m4f journey, his petrol gauge finally flashed on empty on the run-in. However, the numbers from that contest 49 days ago suggest he ran to a pretty high standard in defeat and with his experience of today’s course likely to count for plenty in the final analysis, he’s strongly fancied to put in an even bolder bid this time around.

Gracchus De Balme - 1pt @ 5/2

13:20 Lingfield

PIRATE KING (best price 13-2) was fully entitled to need the run after a fairly lengthy absence at Southwell last time out and it should now be all systems go back at a track where his C&D form figures read 111231.

Although Charlie Fellows’ gelding has run well on most all-weather surfaces, he seems to really thrive at today’s Surrey venue and that theory is backed up by some of the speed figures he’s posted. Ironically, however, his best number came in defeat when he finished runner-up to Al Zaraqaan just over a year ago, so if he can run anywhere near that level again today, he should find himself right in the mix.

Pirate King - 1pt e/w @ 13/2

14:00 Haydock

HUNTERS CALL (best price 9-4) might be verging on senior citizen status, but he certainly doesn’t race like one, and despite the lurking presence of one of the most improved horses of the season in the shape of Tommy’s Oscar, Olly Murphy’s gelding can prove that he still can go toe-to-toe with the young whippersnappers.

Said to be the best Olly Murphy has ever trained, he may have gone right to the top if it wasn’t for his issues, but as we’ve seen on countless occasions, he’s still capable of running to an extremely high level when healthy. The way he toyed with a useful field of handicappers at Bangor on his first run for 249 days suggested he still retains all his old ability and he went on to back up that view in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham last time, only getting run out of the argument close home after travelling the best for the majority of the journey. If the handicapper is right, the son of Medaaly may struggle to cope with a younger rival rated 156, but it wouldn’t be the first time the ratings are turned on their head in these conditions events and there’s more than a fair chance this race proves to be another case in point.

Hunters Call - 1pt @ 9/4

14:35 Haydock

ROYAL PAGAILLE (best price 5-2) ran out a hugely impressive winner of this race last year under top weight and even though there appears to be more strength in depth in this season’s renewal, Venetia Williams’ course specialist is still fancied to come out swinging.

Victorious on his first visit to the Merseyside venue, the eight-year-old created an even more favourable impression on his return visit a month later, so much so, that connections felt obliged to have a tilt at the Gold Cup. As it turned out, the quicker-than-ideal conditions on the day proved his undoing and it resulted in his getting beaten a total of 49 lengths. Back in action at his favourite venue in the Betfair Chase on his seasonal bow, once again the ground went against him in the build up to the event, but even so, this time he managed to put his differences aside with nature and run arguably close to a career high in chasing home the wildly impressive winner A Plus Tard. Kept on a mark of 163 despite that tremendous effort, he will obviously have to pull another rabbit out of the hat to score off that perch, but such is his ability to handle the prevailing soft conditions at a track that clearly plays into his strengths, the son of Blue Bresil has more positives than negatives of achieving the feat.

Royal Pagaille - 1pt @ 5/2

16:00 Navan

JOYEUX MACHIN (NAP) (best price 7-4) was the only horse to offer any sort of resistance to the hugely-impressive Facile Vega in a quality bumper at Leopardstown at the Christmas fixture and with his conqueror quite rightly towards the top of the betting for the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham festival off the back of that display, hope is high Paul Nolan’s charge can justify his performance and the hype surrounding the race in question.

In terms of bumpers, the one at the Dublin venue 27 days ago proved to be a particularly strongly run heat and at no point did the five-year-old ever miss a beat. Keeping on gamely all the way to the line, he would have done something pretty special himself if it wasn’t for the Willie Mullins-trained beast getting in his way (13 lengths clear of the rest), but it would be a shock to all concerned if lightening were to strike twice in terms of coming up against a horse of that magnitude in a run-of-the-mill bumper and he receives a confident vote to take care of this field if running to a similar level.

Joyeux Machin - 2pts @ 7/4