Jamie Osborne is pleased to have a couple of jokers up his sleeve as his Wales And The West team look cling on to their narrow lead and successfully defend the Racing League at Southwell on Wednesday.
The Midlands venue plays host to what promises to be a thrilling final night showdown to the six-week competition, with Osborne’s squad heading the Kevin Blake-led Irish team by 666 points to 664.
Wales And The West clinched the title in dramatic fashion at Newcastle 12 months ago and made a blistering start to the 2023 edition with four winners on the opening night at Yarmouth.
Ireland were slower out of the blocks, but have clawed their way back into contention and briefly topped the leaderboard at Wolverhampton last week.
Osborne is wary of the threat the Irish team pose – but with two jokers left to play, which will see Wales And The West receive double points in the races that they used, he is in confident mood.
“I was relieved that we retained our lead last week given we put out our weakest squad of the competition,” said Osborne.
“As far as this week is concerned, I can see Ireland regaining the lead through the first part of the card but, with two jokers up our sleeve, I see us getting stronger as the night goes on.
“I think we look very strong in the two-mile race with Blazeon Five and Zain Nights, who are both last-time-out winners, although annoyingly I cannot play a joker as there are only 11 runners.
“Away from that, I think we have good options in the six-furlong, mile and 12-furlong races and that is where my jokers will be played.”
Blake said: “We are up against it because for all Jamie is only narrowly ahead, he does have both jokers left to play. We are going to have to absolutely knock it out the park, while we will need Jamie to fluff his lines. But as we saw last year, you can have some late drama in this competition.
“I think we have good strength in depth the whole way through. We have five Irish-trained horses coming over, three for Ado McGuinness and two for Johnny Levins. Four of those horses have run during the competition already and have acquitted themselves well, with two winning.
“George Boughey has a strong hand and I know David Loughnane is keen on his runner Hat Toss. We also have old Gulliver on the team for David O’Meara, who feels he is ready to strike having been in the wilderness for a while. Richard Hughes is also very strong on his pair Faster Bee and Cinnodin.
“None of ours will be big prices and should be in the mix. These races are so competitive, you need the run of the race for it to happen, and the draws have generally been quite kind, whereas last week they weren’t.
“It has been a real fun competition for me this year because in the last couple of years I have taken an absolute hiding. It has been great to be competitive and hopefully that continues on Wednesday.”
Wales And The West’s Saffie Osborne (282 points) is on course to retain her leading rider title. She has six rides on the card, while her closest challenger Dylan Browne McMonagle (221 points) is required elsewhere.