DARK THUNDER (3.30) could spell very bad news for the bookmakers in the St James Security Handicap Hurdle at Sedgefield this afternoon.

Ferdy Murphy's gelding was tremendously impressive when leaving the opposition toiling abjectly at the rear to notch a clear-cut victory over course and distance at the track on his penultimate start.

Connections then opted to switch Dark Thunder from hurdles to fences, a move that didn't exactly go to plan because he failed to justify favouritism by only finishing third behind Diamond Cottage and Sylviesbuck.

Today's return to the smaller obstacles therefore makes ideal sense, especially as the selection will be suited by the extreme three-mile-three-furlong trip, plus is reunited with the talented conditional jockey, P J McDonald, who was on board when the combination prevailed last month.

Tony McCoy's presence in the saddle to partner Arrayou (3.00) for the totesport.com Novices' Hurdle will ensure the four-year-old goes off as market leader in the £5,000 contest.

Arrayou's overall level of composite form entitles him to a first-class chance, with the Richard Phillips-trained, Roaring Water, rated the main danger in the hands of McCoy's arch weighing room rival, Richard Johnson.

Gloucestershire-based handler Tom George pays a rare visit to the course, doubtless trusting to luck that Trenance (4.00) stays on his feet for the toteexacta Handicap Chase.

Trenance took a crashing fall at Bangor in February, nor did he put in a foot perfect round when runner-up at Warwick 23 days ago. Nonetheless, the gelding has shown bits and pieces of ability in the past, suggesting he might surprise one or two more fancied opponents in the two-mile-and-five-furlong event.

The 16-runner John Wade Selling Handicap Hurdle is something of a lottery, so only a small each-way wager is recommended on Star Trooper (4.30).

Two years ago Star Trooper would have been far too good for this line-up, sadly though he's lost his way this term and punters will now have to hope that a recent five-week break will have helped him get his act back together.

* Graham Lee, who bids for back-to-back Grand National victories on Amberleigh House at Aintree on Saturday, has finished as leading rider over jumps on the Yorkshire courses this season.

Lee rode three winners at Wetherby's meeting two weeks ago to take his tally to 16 in the county during the jumps campaign at Catterick, Doncaster and Wetherby.

Bingley-based Sue Smith retained her title as the leading jumps trainer with 19 winners, six more than her nearest pursuer Howard Johnson.

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