The Open Maiden has 19 entries and is likely to feature at least four horses who contested the equivalent race here last month, namely Major Minus (2nd), Dressedforsuccess (left)(3rd), Hooligan Jack (4th) and Sheperds Cave (7th). Caviar d'Allen recorded his best Irish rating when beaten a head by Special Prep in a Stradbally Maiden in April 2017. The unraced Donnie Brasco is an eye-catching entry from the Tom Ellis yard. His sire, Buck's Boum is a full brother to the brilliant Big Buck's. Of the others, Sommervieu already has plenty of miles on the clock for a 5 year old, with seventeen starts under Rules, including six on the Flat. The former Maurice Barnes-trained hurdler, You'll Do will be having his first start for new owner, Jack Clark. He was given an official rating of 105 after finishing eleven lengths 5th of 7 to Clemento in a 2m1f Cartmel Novices Hurdle last August.
The Northern Area point-to-point season resumes after a three week break with the West Percy fixture at the Ratcheugh Farm course near Alnwick on Sunday 6th January. It has attracted 92 entries, including several long distance travellers from the in-form yards of Tom Ellis and Alan Hill, on a six race card which starts at 12.30pm.
Worcester Pearmain (left) stayed on strongly in the closing stages when scoring at Hexham (Restricted) and Alnwick (Conditions) in December and faces a maximum of three rivals as she bids for a hat-trick in the opening Members Race. Nick Orpwood's mount receives a handy 10lb from the former Arthur Moore-trained gelding, Back Off Mate. The latter is a versatile sort, having won five times under Rules, including two on the Flat, with his last success coming in a 1m5f Ballinrobe Handicap in June 2015. He shaped well on his first outing for Cherry Coward's yard when three lengths 2nd to Financial Climate here last month. Purcell's Bridge, a 109-rated chaser and hurdler, recorded his last three wins on soft or heavy ground and may need the run after being off the track for thirteen months.
Monsun Storm, Templenaboe and Templepoint (right) filled the minor placings in last month's Ratcheugh Racing Club Restricted Race and are set to renew rivalries in Sunday's equivalent, which has 16 entries. Of the trio, Templenaboe, who was given an Irish rating of 91 after winning a Ballynoe Maiden on debut in April 2016, is probably open to most improvement. Inmyday represents Alan Hill's Aston Rowant yard. He landed a Barbury Maiden first time out last January and was not beaten far when placed twice in Restricted company later in the season. Manitowoc County (Irish rating 88) won a Tinahely Maiden in October 2016. Cottesmore raider, Merrydown Black has been placed in five of his last six starts since December 2016 but is returning from an absence of ten months. The one to beat is the highly regarded Monte Alban, trained by Justin Landy. He got off the mark in good style here last month, beating Major Minus by twelve lengths and looks an exciting prospect.
Dual course winner, Winged Crusader galloped his rivals into submission in a fast time here in December and must go close again under Amie Waugh if reproducing that effort in the Ladies Open Race (18 entries). The Tom Ellis-trained gelding, Vedettariat is top rated and must be respected even though he missed last season. His three Ladies Open victories in the 2016/17 campaign were all gained on good ground. Of the others, Iron Chancellor (left), Settledoutofcourt, Scarlet Fire and Abbeyview finished 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th respectively behind Winged Crusader last time, with the latter pair likely to come on most for the run. Alan Hill's evergreen 15 year old gelding, Start Royal, who made a winning debut in December 2008, took his career tally between the flags to 26 last season, while the progressive Streets Of Milan, who landed last year's Heart Of All England Maiden Hunters' Chase at Hexham, is more likely to run in the Men's Open.
As usual, there is plenty of quality in the Men's Open Race, with 10 of the 18 entries rated over 100. The aforementioned Back Off Mate (right), Boa Island and Neville Woods finished 2nd, 3rd and 5th respectively behind Financial Climate here last time. Ardkilly Witness, who scored here in December 2017 under Will Thirlby, also holds an entry at Larkhill, while former 139-rated Irish chaser, My Murphy is one to note if making the long trip north from Sally Randell's Cheltenham base. He made most to win a Templenacarriga Open in December 2017 and was then placed twice behind Gilgamboa. Shantou Magic and Ted Veale both had a bit in hand when scoring first time out at Hexham on heavy ground and should again be in the mix. However, it may prove a stiffer test for the talented Ted Veale who hasn't raced over the full three mile trip since October 2011.
The 17 entries for the concluding Conditions Race include the aforementioned trio of Abbeyview (10lb penalty), My Murphy (5lb pen) and Purcell's Bridge (7lb pen). Game As A Pheasant and Lord Usher both shaped well when placed in this grade over course and distance last month. Former 132-rated chaser, Relax (right) finished a promising third at Hexham on his first outing since March 2016. The former Nicky Richards-trained gelding, Wicked Spice, who scored over hurdles in April 2015 off a mark of 125, is entitled to come on a lot for his run here last time behind Matts Commission. The latter's success, his 4th in a row between the flags, was not expected by jockey, Jack Teal, who thought the 6 year old would need the run on his reappearance. He is still on an upward curve and can brush aside a 3lb penalty. The Tom Ellis-trained mare, Kalabaloo looks the main danger. Last season, she landed an Ampton Restricted and Fakenham Intermediate before posting a career-best effort when six lengths 3rd to Fortune Bound in the 3m2f Connolly's Red Mills Intermediate Championship Final at Cheltenham in May.
The post code for SatNav users is NE66 3AE and the course is well signposted from the A1.