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Nightjar looks ready to cash in on handy perch.

Byline: PIETRO INNOCENZI

IF IMPRIMIS TAGULA is as good as he looked when winning by nine lengths and more from Ingleby Arch and Nightjar at Southwell last month then the rest may as well stay in their boxes when he returns to the track for the first time since in the Play Golf At Southwell Golf Club Handicap (2.50).

However, although Alan Bailey's six-year-old is much improved, the combination of a significant rise in the weights, the furlong-shorter trip on a surface that shouldn't be as deep as at recent meetings, and the widest stall gives his rivals a realistic opportunity of turning the tables, with Nightjar marginally preferred to Ingleby Arch, who bids for a hat-trick in the race.

A four-time winner at the track for Mark Johnston, Nightjar has been a shade disappointing in two starts since joining Kevin Ryan in October and was readily put in his place over 1m at the track last time by Reve De Nuit, who has subsequently done nothing for the form.

There are feasible excuses. The track was possibly riding slower than he cared for on both occasions and is forecast to be standard today, he's back over his last winning trip, and he looks the type who could benefit for the first-time headgear, as he was uncharacteristically slowly away when beaten into second over the distance by Ingleby Arch in October (4lb better off with that rival now).

Riding tactics could be important as there are several in the line-up who like to race prominently without necessarily wanting to force it, and I hope Tom Eaves is able to settle Nightjar in the blinkers.

Point-to-point winner Just Playfull has come off the bit a long way from home on sharp tracks on his last couple of starts, so I'm expecting Leicester's stiffer terrain to prove much more to his liking in the Brook Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Chase (2.10).

Despite running in snatches, Just Playfull showed plenty of persistence at both Warwick and Fontwell, remaining in contention until the final stages, and with the runners likely to go half a yard slower on the prevailing easy ground at this more testing course, Mark Rimell's charge should find things a little less hectic. It may also help his jumping, which has been a bit novicey and on the safe side at times.

Peter Toole, who is blossoming this season, has an impressive 21 per cent strike-rate for the yard and looks a useful booking for an eight-year-old who has considerably fewer miles on the clock than the majority of his rivals.

The obvious one here is Ponchatrain, who can be forgiven his run in the same Fontwell race as Just Playfull last time, when he was never really in the hunt after coming off second best in an altercation with a loose rail early on.

The ten-year-old had looked on the upgrade when beating a subsequent winner at Folkestone in November and today's better ground is expected to be in his favour. However, the stiff finish might not be and, at the likely prices, I'm siding with Just Playfull.

Provost isn't exactly reliable and is just as likely to become tailed off as win, as he did on three consecutive starts last summer, but there was enough encouragement on last month's return from three months off to suggest he's recovered from the slump and is not without a chance in the Betdaq Poker Handicap (2.20) at Southwell.

There's a discernible pattern emerging to Provost's form that strongly suggests he's a horse to be interested in only when fresh, as two of his three wins have come on the back of a decent layoff - including over course and distance - while the other was on his second start after a break.

For whatever reason, he seems incapable of holding his form for more than a couple of outings, so we could well be due one of his better efforts here if he sticks to type. One important fact prospective punters should bear in mind is that he was well backed prior to his last two wins.

Of the two improvers in the field, Bestowed makes more appeal than Hit The Switch, who doesn't look as well equipped to deal with what could turn out to be only a steady pace. Yesterday's lead tipster Mark Winstanley gave 7-1 Over Sixty and 11-4 Chamirey Today's bets Just Playfull 2.10 Leicester 1pt win Provost 2.20 Southwell 1pt win Nightjar 2.50 Southwell 1pt win
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 26, 2010
Words:752
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