Unexposed Ziga Boy can deliver for King

Bill Esdaile
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Alan King has his string in fine form
FFOS LAS stages its biggest meeting of the year tomorrow and the Betway-sponsored card promises to deliver some fantastic action.

The final declarations won’t be out until later this morning, so there is a degree of guesswork needed, but the race I’m going to focus on first is the Betway West Welsh National (2.40pm).

Venetia Williams landed this prize 12 months ago with Emperor’s Choice and she is always to be feared in these marathon events. She has four entries but it is difficult to know who will run at this stage.

Royal Palladium is potentially the most interesting. He fell when still in with a chance at Ludlow last time going for a four-timer. However, he won a novices’ handicap at Lingfield off a mark of 100 back in November and is now rated 24lb higher.

Firebird Flyer, who beat Royal Palladium at Ludlow last time, was a respectable second in this contest last year, but he has to carry an extra 18lb this time.

The one I’m keen on to land the spoils is Alan King’s ZIGA BOY. The gelding has only had five starts in Britain since arriving from France and is less exposed than most of these.

The six-year-old won impressively at Wincanton two starts back and was bang in contention when unseating three from home at Newbury next time. I think he would have won that day and, provided his confidence isn’t dented, he should go well.

The ground is often desperate in Wales around this time but it isn’t too testing at present. Ziga Boy has winning form on heavy and good ground, so should be well-equipped in any case to deal with conditions. And with King in fine form, Ziga Boy rates a decent bet.

The highlight at the Welsh track is the Betway Welsh Champion Hurdle (2.05pm) and this limited handicap has proven to be a key pointer for Cheltenham since it was first run in 2013.

Medinas took the prize that year and then followed up in the Coral Cup, while Whisper, who was narrowly denied by Saphir Du Rheu in Wales a year ago, also landed the valuable 2m5f hurdle at the Festival.

We don’t know if there is anything as classy as those two in the field, but the one horse who has the potential to be well ahead of his mark is David Pipe’s BATAVIR.

The six-year-old was disappointing on his first start for the yard at Leicester, but that was over an inadequate two miles and he has come into his own since stepping up in trip.

A commanding winner under AP McCoy at Ascot before Christmas, he then followed up at Wincanton under a penalty on Boxing Day. Tom Scudamore took the ride that day, despite having to catch a helicopter to ride Dynaste in the King George, so he’s clearly well-regarded at home.

Paul Nicholls’ Silsol heads the weights and, as long as he is declared, Batavir will carry just 10st5lb. He is going to be very hard to beat.

Over at Sandown, the big betting race is the Betfred Mobile Heroes Handicap Hurdle (3.00pm) where Silsol’s absence has meant the weights have risen markedly.

I don’t think that will be a problem for Harry Fry’s POLAMCO, though, as he still gets in on 10st11lb and, similarly to Batavir, he is another highly progressive animal.

I was at Newbury when he won on Challow Hurdle day and I was deeply impressed with his performance. He raced keenly that day and looked like he was going to get swallowed up all the way down the home straight, but he fought back gamely.

This is another slight step up in trip, so the worry is that he will be overly exuberant again. However, he is learning all the time and he could still have plenty left in the locker.

A weekend never seems to go by without Nicholls having a decent Saturday winner and IRISH SAINT is fancied to land the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase (2.25pm).

He was backed as if defeat was out of the question at this course on Tingle Creek day, but he got tapped for toe behind stablemate Vibrato Valtat.

However, the step up in trip at Ascot last time worked the oracle and he should have too much for this field.

■ Pointers…
BATAVIR 12.05pm Ffos Las (tomorrow)
IRISH SAINT 2.25pm Sandown (tomorrow)
ZIGA BOY e/w 2.40pm Ffos Las (tomorrow)
POLAMCO 3.00pm Sandown (tomorrow)