LOUIS THE PIOUS, a talented sprinter, who is likely to be York-bound next month for the Knavesmire's opening action, can start his season in style by winning the feature race at Pontefract this afternoon.

The £20,000 Riu Palace Meloneras Handicap is the target for the David O'Meara-trained runner, who will have the services of stable jockey Danny Tudhope on his first outing for more than five months.

Louis The Pious put up a bold show first time out last season, which shows he can go well fresh. A Haydock winner in the summer, he went on to finish a hugely creditable second in the Ayr Gold Cup in September.

He is not ideally drawn here in one of the widest berths, but last year's winner of this race, York Glory overcame an even wider stall. Louis The Pious should go well and is awarded the nap vote.

O'Meara can also have a say in the outcome of The Full Ponte Package - New For 2014 Handicap with new recruit Bartack.

Previously trained by Luca Cumani and a dual-winner, Bartack was a fairly consistent performer last season. This race fits the bill ideally for his first outing of the campaign and it would be no surprise to see him come up trumps for his North Yorkshire trainer.

The opening Racing UK Easter Holiday Maiden Fillies' Stakes was won last year by Mops Angel, trained by Mick Appleby, who has this time entered Appleberry. Given that trainers often target races they have won previously with similar types of horses, Appleberry, a daughter of Approve, is not to be underestimated.

The Peter Reek 70th Birthday Pontefract Marathon Handicap is run over a leg-buckling distance of almost two and three-quarter miles. Tartan Jura, trained by Mark Johnston, pictured, was a winner over two miles at Southwell last week. If he can muster the stamina to see out this extra distance, Joe Fanning's mount is entitled to go close.

At Hexham, Tony McCoy's relentless pursuit of winners continues and the legendary jockey has a couple of useful chances standing-in for the injured Jason Maguire on Donald McCain-trained runners.

In the Thornton-Firkin Novices' Hurdle, McCoy teams-up with Wild Card, who was a beaten favourite when finishing second at Newcastle on his latest start six weeks ago. That was his first outing since October and there is every chance that he will have benefited as a result. He deserves the opportunity to recover losses.

McCain and McCoy also join forces with Bespoke Lady in the Riding Mares Maiden Hurdle.

The five-year-old finished runner-up at Sedgefield last month and even though that form is nothing to write home about, this modest-looking race represents a good opportunity for her to go one better.

Brian Hughes has fine prospects in the opening Visit Hadrian's Wall Handicap Chase. Patrick Griffin's Irish raider was a recent winner at Kelso and is fancied to defy a 7lb penalty.

Peter Niven has his horses in good heart and the North Yorkshire trainer may be able to make it third-time-lucky with Pithivier, who has creditably finished in the money in both his previous starts, in the Vallum National Hunt Flat Race.



Pontefract today

2.10 Appleberry, 2.40 Bartack, 3.10 Louis The Pious (NAP), 3.40 Tartan Jura, 4.10 Active Spirit, 4.40 Thorpe Bay.

Hexham today

2.00 Sudski Star, 2.30 Bop Along, 3.00 Wild Card, 3.30 Definite Appeal, 4.00 Bespoke Lady, 4.30 Current Exchange, 5.00 Pithivier.

Today's other meeting: Windsor.

Tomorrow's meetings: Exeter, Kempton and Southwell.