Musselburgh start the new year off with a bang tomorrow when bookmakers Betway sponsor the whole of the New Year’s Day card, which carries well in excess of £120,000 in prize money.
A huge crowd is expected at the East Lothian track, where the best bet could prove to be Kajaki, who bids to keep his unbeaten record over hurdles.
The gelding has won both his two starts over hurdles and can extend the winning run on his first venture into handicap company in the Betway Heed Your Hunch Handicap Hurdle (2.50).
An £85,000 yearling, he won three times on the level, but was disappointing in that sphere this year before wind surgery and a switch to the jumping game seemed to rekindle his enthusiasm.
The five-year-old was sent off favourite and came home clear on his hurdling bow at Sedgefield in October, before following up in better company at Wetherby the following month.
There were only five runners, but the form looks solid. The runner-up had won his previous race, while the third home has a bumper win on his CV and trainer Kevin Ryan feels that Kajaki has a lot more to come over hurdles.
“He schooled well from day one as he is neat and nimble and he will get better,” said Ryan. “That was a decent race at Wetherby and Musselburgh should suit him.”
Borders trainer Iain Jardine fields a strong team, best of which could be Always Lion in the finale – the Betway Casino Handicap Chase (3.25).
The gelding is coming back from a 556 day break and makes his debut for the Carrutherstown handler, but has some smart form and can defy top weight after such a long spell on the sidelines.
“He came to me in late summer and has been fine,” Jardine said. “This has been the plan for a while and I’m certainly hopeful of a good show.”
Always Lion was a 33-1 winner on his racecourse debut in a bumper at Worcester in 2014 for Brendan Powell, after which he was sold and moved to join Ben Pauling, for whom he ran with credit in top-class bumper events.
He was runner-up in his hurdling debut before going one better at Ludlow just over three years ago, but then came a set-back and he did not run again until making a successful bow over fences at Market Rasen some 18 months ago. He jumped really well and looks a very useful chaser in the making if Jardine can keep him in one piece.
Liva is bred for the flat and notched up two victories at that game before switching to jumping obstacles and has already raised a winning flag at the winter game.
The gelding scored over seven furlongs as a two-year-old and over ten last summer before joining Donald McCain in Cheshire and was runner-up on his hurdling bow at Catterick when sent off a hot favourite.
The three-year-old recouped those losses in style on this track recently though, making all to win by a decent margin and he is expected to collect again in the Betway First Foot Juvenile Hurdle (12.30) which opens the card.
Upsilon Bleu can make it third time lucky in the Betway Auld Reekie Handicap Chase (1.40) The gelding weakened in the home straight when sixth in this event two years ago, but ran much better 12 months later when runner-up. He was outgunned only on the run-in and now runs off a 3lbs lower mark. He will be fitter now too after a promising reappearance at Kelso three weeks ago following a lengthy summer holiday.
Selections: 12.30 Liva; 1.40 Upsilon Bleu; 2.50 Kajaki; 3.25 Always Lion.