Trainers Lucinda Russell, Sue Smith and Neil Mulholland all have high hopes as a busy March gets underway at Carlisle on Thursday.
Mulholland’s Molly Carew will be well fancied as they head off for the 2m 4f GTR Contracts Handicap Chase – the highlight race in the course’s first of three meetings this month.
The seven-year-old mare may be the top weight but was a convincing winner last time out at Ffos Las in February over similar distance.
The challenge may come from Russell’s Ryalex, a winner at Carlisle in the autumn, and Smith’s Never Up, who has to look further back for a win at this track, to October 2017.
Instingtive won at this meeting last year for Lisa Harrison. The eight-year-old has 10 races behind him this season and has gone agonisingly close on occasion, never more so than when pipped by Calivigny in the Northern Lights Chase final at this course in December.
Both Pookie Pekan for Stuart Coltherd and The Orange Rogue for Nick Alexander will also have their backers.
In the day’s other top-prized race, a 2m 4f novices’ handicap chase, there’s little to choose between leading contenders.
Vasco D’Ycy for Julia Brooke was placed on return at Ayr and Magic of Milan won at the same course for Sam England when favourite in January.
There’s a welcome return to Carlisle for Donald McCain, back racing after the flu outbreak. His yard’s Thomas Do can point to some Carlisle pedigree with a runner-up spot claimed over similar distance and ground two years ago.
Nick and Lucy Alexander will be aiming for a repeat of their recent Ayr success with Christmas in USA in a novices’ handicap hurdle over 2m 1f. Russell’s Emissaire will be ridden by Blair Campbell while Brian Hughes takes the reins for Stef Keniry’s Rafferty.
Elsewhere on the card, Chambard and Dominateur look the pick of the field in the 2m 3f Plough Novices’ Hurdle.
Chambard won at Exeter in January and has also claimed two places this season for Venetia Williams and jockey Charlie Deutsch. Meanwhile Dominateur was a winner last time out at Lingfield over similar distance and Oliver Sherwood’s six-year-old will again have Gavin Sheehan on board.
There’s a wide open Esk Intermediate Open National Hunt Flat Race with four of the seven runners on debut.
The afternoon opens with a handicap hurdle for conditional jockeys and amateurs in which Strike West for Micky Hammond can boast a previous Carlisle success from last April.
There are plenty of returning entries in the day’s finale, the Eden Open Hunters’ Chase. Little Jon will carry the hopes of the course’s leading trainer this season, Nigel Twiston-Davies, who will be looking to add to his seven wins.
Molly Dingwall, Carlisle Racecourse General Manager, said: “March is such an iconic month for jumps racing – with the Cheltenham Festival almost upon us – and we’re lucky to have three meetings for race-goers to enjoy here at Carlisle.
“First up is a very competitive looking afternoon meeting with plenty of interest right through the card.”
Tickets for Thursday March 7 are £15 for adults (in advance) or £18 (on the day). Under-18s free entry when accompanied by an adult.
Gates open 12.20pm, first race is 2.20pm and last race 5.35pm.