Monte Alban showed plenty of promise when placed three times between the flags in Ireland last season and a reproduction of that form will see him get off the mark on his first start for Justin Landy's yard in the Open Maiden Race which has 21 entries. Major Minus, Robins Legend, One For Silky and Raleagh Mountain (left) finished in that order behind Uptown Harry and Enry Iggins in the Border equivalent and should all come on for the run, with Major Minus likely to pose the main threat to Monte Alban. The dark horse is Where's Phoenis, an unraced four year old gelding trained by Lucinda Russell.
The first of this season's four fixtures at the Ratcheugh Farm course near Alnwick takes place on Sunday 16th December hosted by the Ratcheugh Racing Club. It has attracted 96 entries on a six race card which starts at noon.
Pieceoftheaction looked as good as ever when making a winning reappearance at Hexham earlier in the month and can defy a 6lb penalty in the opening NPPA Conditions Race. Regular pilot, Tom Hamilton will be back in the saddle as long as he is not required to ride for his boss, Joseph O'Brien at Navan on Sunday. Tom deserves a special mention as last Sunday's Punchestown victory on Embittered took his career tally to 100, comprising 65 between the flags and 35 under Rules.
The other 15 entries include Lough Derg Island (left), Matts Commission, Veauce De Sivola, Abbeyview, Wayupinthesky, Wicked Spice, Winged Crusader and Worcester Pearmain, although the latter quintet are also listed in other races on the card. The progressive Matts Commission scored at Dalton Park, Hornby Castle and Witton Castle last season before finishing three and a half lengths fourth to Rob The Getaway in the valuable Aintree Point-to-Point Bumper. Veauce De Sivola, a full brother to the ill-fated Reve De Sivola, has won twice on heavy ground under Rules.
Winged Crusader (right, centre) finished ten lengths fourth to Shantou Magic in the recent Border Men''s Open and should go well if trying to repeat last year's success in the Ladies Open Race which has 15 entries. Laura Fenwick steered Abbeyview to victory at Alnwick and Hexham earlier this year and her mount ran a blinder when not beaten far by Man Of Steel in a Cartmel Hunters' Chase last time out. Course specialist, Knocklong and proven stayer, Iron Chancellor will both strip fitter for their Hexham return to action behind Irish Anthem. Mhairi Ogilvie could have her first ride on the evergreen Rossini's Dancer, while the ultra consistent Scarlet Fire has yet to finish out of the first two in ten Pointing starts.
As usual, there is plenty of quality in the 14 Men's Open entries. All seven of Always Tipsy's (left) career wins came with some cut in the ground and he needed the run when 5th of 6 in the 2017 renewal. Black River finished five lengths 2nd to Shantou Magic in the Border equivalent and is open to further improvement as that was only his second outing since November 2015. Major Harry Wallace has entered the Royal Artillery-qualified Financial Climate, who won seven times under Rules prior to April 2015, as well as Didntitellya in the Conditions Race.
Neville Woods was impressive when scoring at Duncombe Park and Hutton Rudby two seasons ago but has been absent for twenty months. On his first start for eighteen months, Wayupinthesky finished nine lengths 3rd to Shantou Magic at Hexham; William Easterby's new recruit, Rattle The Cage secured all three Irish Pointing wins on soft or heavy ground; the North's top stayer, One Conemara was only beaten half a length by Ardkilly Witness in the 2017 renewal, while the Catherine Walton-trained Wicked Spice is a full brother to Balthazar King.
The aforementioned Black River, Rattle The Cage, Wayupinthesky and Worcester Pearmain (right) also figure in the 17 entries for the Conditions Race. The latter stayed on well when making a winning reappearance in the recent Border Restricted Race. Sea Beat and Notebook both shaped well when 3rd and 4th respectively behind Ted Veale over a shorter trip at Hexham, while the hat-trick seeking Road To Rome is also entered at Clifton-on-Dunsmore on Sunday-much nearer to his Nantwich yard than Alnwick.
The concluding Restricted Race has 13 entries. The lightly raced Ardenlee Lad (right) was challenging the leaders when falling two out in the recent Border equivalent and must go close with a clear round. Ailsa and Ben Speke's home-bred mare, Coomacarrea has plenty of stamina in her pedigree and showed steady improvement in her debut season as a seven year old, culminating in a Lauderdale Maiden victory. Rock Home Late won first time out at Edgcote last season; Templepoint figured prominently at Hexham before falling three out, while Templenaboe earned an Irish rating of 91 after landing a Ballynoe Maiden contest on debut in April 2016 but has failed to fulfil that potential in five subsequent outings under Rules from Lucinda Russell's yard.
The post code for SatNav users is NE66 3AE and the course is well signposted from the A1.