Mike Cattermole hoping to end year on a high with Kerry Lee runner at Uttoxeter

The In Memory of June Taylor Handicap Hurdle (1.43) at Uttoxeter on Saturday is a Class 3 event over two-and-a-half miles which originally attracted 13 declarations for its pot of over £21,000, although Go Dante has scoped badly and has now been withdrawn.

The remaining dozen will take a bit of thinking through and it is no surprise that the market suggests that it is pretty wide-open. Indeed, an excellent race.

THE CONTENDERS

Nickle Back

Free-runner who absolutely bolted up by 30 lengths on soft ground at Fontwell in October, 2021. However, was absent for 406 days afterwards and came back at Cheltenham last month when opening up an enormous advantage at one stage only to tire and finish well held.

Tried in a hood (retained here) next time at Huntingdon when dropped back to two miles and weakened in the closing stages. Has been dropped 4lb since his return but needs to settle down a bit to fulfil his potential.

Message Personnel

Started off his career in France, winning in deep ground at Dieppe.

His seconds at both Wetherby and Doncaster at the start of the year were respectable runs and clearly were expected as he started favourite both times. But he has been off since and undergone a wind operation.

If that has helped, then he could well be a big player, and more rain would do him no harm.

Kings Keeper

Part of a Gigginstown clearout at Goffs in September when picked up for £21,000 by the ever-shrewd Kerry Lee from Henry De Bromhead. Had won a maiden hurdle at Wexford in June but was tailed off on his chase debut which probably prompted his exit.

Did very well on his British debut over this same course and distance when, after four months off, he went down by just a neck to the in-form Punctuation, who has won again since at Cheltenham. The pair pulled nine lengths clear of the others and the step up in trip certainly suited him.

Up 4lb now but Angus Cheleda takes off 5lb. With even just a touch of improvement, he looks sure to be thereabouts, especially as more rain will suit him. Big player.

Hermes Boy

Won at Exeter last December and was twice beaten at odds-on earlier this year so maybe approach with a little caution as he doesn’t look the most straightforward (can hang).

However, he tackled a Class 2 event at Sandown last time over two miles and appeared to be really struggling approaching the second last only to keep plugging on in first-time cheekpieces (retained here) to take fourth behind the smart Love Envoi.

The ground should suit and he has an each-way shot.

Can You Call

Was chasing at the turn of the year and won at Catterick in February off this very same mark.

He returned to Taunton after nine months away and was back over hurdles when running a decent race in defeat, beaten a length by American Sniper, the two of them finishing 25 lengths clear of the next home.

The ground will suit and he has to be seriously considered.

Mister Who

Produced a battling performance at Lingfield (soft) in November to see off Jubilee Express in what was his yard’s last winner (although pretty quiet since).

A direct line with Jubilee Express suggests a tough ask against Hermes Boy but he is unexposed and probably has more to offer.

Blue Stello

Regarded as a chaser in the making by his legendary trainer and after finishing second in his point, made his Rules debut after a year off to win at Warwick in November 2021, finishing very strongly for a narrow defeat but getting the race following a stewards’ enquiry because he was bumped close home.

Off for over a year now but is clearly full of potential from a top, top yard and looks likely to start favourite.

Ballycross

Veteran who was formerly with Nicky Henderson – and was quite useful once – but makes his debut for new connections but with a record of two wins from 35 starts. First hurdles race for just over three years and amateur partner is winless from 11 rides. Easy to oppose.

Latino Fling

Improving mare who has been operating mainly on good ground this year and has notched up five wins, including over the course and distance in July. Has shown her versatility too over distances of two to almost three miles.

Off since being held at Kelso in September and needs to find a bit more, although she does have earlier form on soft.

Risk D’Argent

Front-runner and consistent type who was second at Wetherby after eight months off and can be expected to come on for that. Handles the ground but the step up in trip is a slight query as he was well held when trying something similar before.

Maclaine

Another unexposed type who went in at Fontwell in November after 10 months off, in spite of edging right towards the stands’ rail in the closing stages.

The form received a boost when the fourth, Alexandra Romanov, won back at that same track earlier this month.

The stable has been quiet recently but there should be more to come in this sort of company.

Rob Royal

Locally trained but off since October, 2020, when winning readily at Kelso off just 2lb lower than today’s mark. Talented and is up in trip but was a point winner. Rising 11 now.

THE VERDICT

Lots of possibilities with several lightly raced types in the mix, such as Mister Who, Blue Stello and Maclaine.

But perhaps the most solid option is KINGS KEEPER who ran a super first race for Kerry Lee here last month and that form has been boosted.

Can You Call is reasonably handicapped and rates a danger while Hermes Boy looks enigmatic but could stay on and get some prize money. Message Personnel is respected, too, if the wind op has worked.

Good luck and a Happy New Year!

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