Arguably the pick of the action on Friday is the extended two-and-a-half-mile handicap hurdle (14:50) at Market Rasen which has a total prize fund of £20,000 and has attracted a field of 11, including some useful sorts.
Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings are narrowly headed by Luttrell Lad (150) based on his best effort for Philip Hobbs in the 2021/22 season when runner-up in the Grade 2 Persian War Novices' Hurdle. Luttrell Lad disappointed in the 2022 Swinton Hurdle on his handicap debut on his final start over jumps for Hobbs, and he didn't fare any better when pulled-up on his first start for Tom Lacey when next seen over hurdles in the Morebattle at Kelso in March, though it's easy to overlook that effort as his rider lost his irons following a bad mistake at the fourth flight.
Luttrell Lad proved that he's still capable of useful form when only beaten around six and a half lengths in eighth in the ultra-competitive County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, with his strength at the finish there offering encouragement he'd be suited by stepping back up to around two and a half miles for the first time since his Persian War effort.
He failed to build on that promise when well held in fifth in the Sussex Champion Hurdle in April but the handicapper has given him a chance by dropping him 4 lb since that effort and he is entitled to respect up in trip here.
Also prominent on Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings, suggesting he's on a potentially lenient mark, is Hang In There (149x). He proved prolific during his first campaign over fences last term, winning five of his eight starts in that sphere, albeit in small fields, and he ran well on his return to hurdling to finish runner-up at Aintree last month.
Hang In There, who was competing off a much lower mark than he had been over hurdles a couple of years ago, was aided by an uncontested lead and by putting in a better round of jumping than is often the case, but he still deserves credit for finding only the least exposed runner in he line-up too strong. He is usually a clumsy jumper of a hurdle (as denoted by the 'x' attached to his rating) but is likely to be in the mix if putting in a similar round to last time, particularly with the Emma Lavelle yard in such good form (has the Hot Trainer Flag).
Lavelle is also represented by Runswick Bay (145), though his task is made more difficult by being 2 lb out of the weights and he needs to bounce back from a disappointing display at Kempton last time. Prior to that he had finished runner-up at Fontwell to Mullinaree (145) who has since followed up at that venue to complete a quikfire hat-trick at the course.
Mullinaree has won two of those starts by half a length and the other one by a length, doing only what was required to prevail. That style of racing means it's been difficult for the handicapper to get a hold on him and he ought to give another good account after edging up 2 lb for his latest effort. His trainer Milton Harris also has the Hot Trainer Flag.
Another who arrives here on a roll is King Alexander (146p) as, following a breathing operation, he made a successful handicap debut at Warwick in April and then had no problem defying a penalty back in novice company at Ffos Las last month. The style of that success earned him the Horse In Focus Flag, identifying him as one likely to be of interest next time, and he still has the 'p' for likely improver attached to his rating. He is 7 lb higher than when scoring on his handicap debut at Warwick but has been really getting his act together of late and looks up to the task. His trainer, Nicky Henderson, also has the Hot Trainer Flag.
The other trainers in the line-up with the Hot Trainer Flag are Dan Skelton and Ben Haslam.
Haslam runs two here in Didtheyleaveuoutto (144+), who would look well treated on the pick of his form for Nick Gifford but has disappointed on both starts over hurdles for this yard, and Celestial Horizon (?), who was pulled-up on his final few starts for Joseph O'Brien and has also failed to fire since joining this yard.
Skelton is represented by Sacre Coeur (148) who registered a first win in Britain when landing a conditional jockeys' handicap hurdle at Haydock in December, knuckling down well under pressure to get the verdict. She failed to make an impact on her subsequent two outings for Jonjo O'Neill but can't be dismissed on her first start for Skelton.
Others starting out for new yards are Impulsive One (145), who has joined Brian Ellison from Nicky Henderson, and The Wounded Knee (143), who is now with Roger Fell having previously been trained by Patrick Neville.
Impulsive One won a couple of good-quality handicaps last season and ran creditably when fourth at Aintree, in the race in which Hang In There was runner-up. However, others look to be on a better handicap mark.
The Wounded Knee made a promising start to his career, building on an encouraging start to win a maiden and handicap at Perth, but has disappointed the last twice and shaped as if amiss when pulled-up at Kelso last time so has a bit to prove on his return from three months off.
Also in the line-up is Earlofthecotswolds (140) who beat only one home on the Flat at Newcastle last time but that effort can be ignored as he did too much too soon. He had looked as good as ever when winning at Wolverhampton prior to that and is entitled to respect on his first start over hurdles since December 2021, for all others look better treated (he went up in the weights for back-to-back handicap hurdle wins that season).
Timeform's Analyst Verdict:
King Alexander arrives on a hat-trick and promises to do better still now switched back to handicapping, so he's preferred to Hang In There, who is well treated on chasing form. Luttrell Lad should benefit from the longer trip, so he seems likely to give another good account.
Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings:
150 Luttrell Lad
149x Hang In There
148 Sacre Coeur
146p King Alexander
145 Runswick Bay
145 Impulsive One
143 The Wounded Knee
? Celestial Horizon
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