La Bague Au Roi made a very promising start to her chasing career when accounting for a very smart field which included Lostintransaltion, who re-opposes. Warren Greatrex’s mare was a Grade 2 winner last season but came up short in a brace of Grade 1’s at Cheltenham and Punchestown on her last two starts of the season.
She looked a real natural over the larger obstacles and although she was receiving weight all round from her rivals, this was an impressive performance and she holds leading claims.
The Colin Tizzard trained Lostintransaltion is a big raw individual who looked in need of the run when going down to La Bague Au Roi on seasonal debut.
Lostintranslation was Grade 1 placed at the Aintree festival last season and I think with the benefit of his opening run behind him and the experienced gained over fences, he can turn the tables with his rival.
Spiritofthegames represents the in-form Skelton brothers and he boasts some very smart handicap form. He finished runner-up in the Lanzarote Hurdle, third in the Betfair Hurdle behind Kalashnikov and fifth in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival.
He made no mistake at his first attempt over fences when winning a listed novices chase at Chepstow. The lightly raced six-year-old is open to lots of improvement and could make up into a very smart horse this season.
The field is completed by Talkischeap but I think Alan King’s inmate will have to find lots of improvement to feature.
Willoughby Court hasn’t been seen since finishing third to Yanworth on New Years Day at Cheltenham and although this absence is worrying, the former Neptune winner is a very classy individual, who is the horse they all have to beat.
Ben Paulding’s seven-year-old was a winner on this card twelve months ago and if returning to anything like she showed previously then he’ll be a tough nut to crack.
Evan Williams must be happy and frustrated in equal measure with Kings Odyssey who has run some fantastic races in defeat in top handicaps. The nine-year-old gelding has actually only won twice over fences and although his consistency is admirable, it also means he races here off a career-high mark and could be vulnerable to a more progressive rival.
Of the others, Touch Kick won well when last seen and must be feared for the in-form Paul Nicholls team.
Selection: Willoughby Court
This a race that has been won by some real fan favourites down the years, with Baracouda, Big Bucks and Inglis Drever all multiple winners of this Grade 2 staying contest. Previous winners have gone on to win the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival in the same season on five occasions so it’s a tried and tested route to the festival.
Sam Spinner had a dream season for Jedd O’Keeffe’s last year which included a victory n the Long Walk Hurdle. Obviously, connections would have been disappointed not to win the Stayers’ Hurdle but he wasn’t beaten far and showed his class again when finishing third in the Grade 1at Aintree on his final start of the season.
He’s still only a six year old so there could still be some improvement to come from the son of Black Sam Bellamy and I’m sure all roads will lead to another crack at the Stayers’ come March.
Wholestone hails from the red-hot Nigel Twiston-Davies yard and has already found a winning bracket this season, when winning at Aintree on seasonal debut. It’s slightly worrying that he was bitterly disappointing behind Beer Googles twelve months ago, but he made amends with a victory in the Relkeel and numerous placings in the top staying races.
This likeable gelding has been a model of consistency with the exception of the aforementioned run and although he doesn’t win that often he should give his running.
Unowwhatimeanharry took this back in 2016 for Harry Fry and JP McManus but wasn’t the force of old last season and even though he’s had a recent wind operation he was comprehensively beaten by Wholestone most recently and I find it hard to see him reversing the form.
It’s hard to weigh the French import “Dragon D’Estruval’s” form but one thing that is certain, is he’s well-schooled given the five-year-old has already run fifteen times. He never came off the bridle in a novice hurdle at Exter back in May and although he could be anything, a watching brief is best advised.
The Fergal O’Brien trained De Name Evades Me looks be a late maturing horse, given that it took him four attempts to break his duck in Irish point to points. It took the same number of runs to get his head in front over hurdles on the racecourse proper and I find it hard to see him being up to winning a race of this calibre.
Aux Ptits Sons is another French-bred who made a fantastic start to their career in England when he unbelievably landed the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham festival. John Hales’s grey wasn’t seen for another year after that win and he’s only won once since that opening victory.
He has changed stables from Paul Nicholls to Dan Skelton since his last start 601 days ago.and he is only two pounds higher than when winning that Coral Cup, which makes him of interest.
Selection: Aux Ptits Sons