Tongue tie back on for handicap debut

Dundalk 16:45: Berliet Express 1pt win 40/1

Berliet Express hasn’t shown much in three starts on the flat but I think he could improve on handicap debut this afternoon.

The first of those three runs was over seven furlongs at Laytown where he was unsurprisingly outpaced and, with the tongue tie removed, he was well beaten in a maiden over C&D two starts ago.

He showed a bit more last time in a 1m4f maiden, again with the usual tongue tie not applied. After breaking well, he was restrained to race in midfield and gradually dropped back further down the back straight to be in third last leaving it. Bumped along entering the straight, he made some headway without ever being in contention to finish eighth.

An opening mark of 54 could underestimate Berliet Express’ ability given how well he often travelled in low-grade races over hurdles and the reapplication of the tongue tie could bring improvement from what he’s shown so far on the flat. Any 25/1 or bigger appeals.

Leniently treated on best form in France

Kempton 19:30: Afkaar 1pt win 20/1

Afkaar has been given a mark of 81 for his British debut at Kempton tonight and, if able to repeat the best of his form in France when trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, that could prove to be lenient.

He was outpaced over 7½f on debut at Cagnes Sur Mer and improved on that next time when stepped up to 1m2f at Pau. He was no match for Ninth Titan, who went on to run in the Prix du Jockey Club, that day but stayed on well to finish third.

He improved on that again when racing over just short of 1m3f at Lyon, a performance that was arguably his best in France. He tracked the leader on the inside from an early stage and was still travelling well turning the final bend. He came under pressure in the home straight to chase Morton but wasn’t given a hard time late on once he couldn’t catch that rival and was beaten a length. The winner has won twice again since and finished second in a Listed race and is now rated the equivalent of 101.

Afkaar got off the mark in a maiden next time at Marseille despite drifting right in the straight and he finished his time in France with a good run in a conditions race at Bordeaux when finishing a close fifth.

Having raced in second early on, he was outpaced early in the home straight but kept responding well to pressure and ran on late to only be beaten three lengths. The winner finished third in a Listed race next time while the runner up has since been bought for €160,000 to join Willie Mullins.

The drop back to 1m1½f was against Afkaar that day and I think he will be suited by this increased test of stamina on his first start for Mark Loughnane having been bought for 34,000gns. The return to an artificial surface should suit too having run so well in defeat at Lyon.

It might be that he will take a little while to adapt to a different style of racing or need the run after a 213-day break and I think he might be at his best in a strongly-run, big-field handicap but I think he’s capable of running well off 81 under these circumstances and any 14/1 or bigger appeals.

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