Wincanton plays host to the tracks biggest racing fixture of the season on Saturday, with lots of exciting prospects making the trip to the Somerset track in search of graded glory.
This is the first graded race of the day and this early season contest has been won by some very big names, most notably Gold Cup winner See More Business (1996), the Grand National-winning Bindaree (2000) and multiple Grade 1 winner Silviniaco Conti.
This year’s contest has attracted some exciting new recruits to chasing, with the Harry Fry-trained Bags Groove chief among these. The son of Oscar was a smart horse over hurdles and ended last season with a mark of 145, which should translate quite well to the larger obstacles. He came up just short o chasing/seasonal debut at Uttoxeter but made amends at Ffos Las last month.
This form gives him leading claims but I would say, he is vulnerable to an improver.
Paul Nicholls runs the talented Secret Investor and he is my idea of the winner, he competed against some high calibre horses last season including Gowiththeflow and Chef Des Obeaux. He has won his last three starts including a smooth victory in the Grade 2 Persian War at Chepstow on seasonal debut.
That run was his first after a win op and it’s very interesting to see him go straight over fences following that run. Whatever happens on Saturday, Secret Investor is an exciting prospect with lots of options.
The field is made up by Majestic Moll, Theligny and Full.
Selection: Secret Investor
This has been won by some smart sorts and is one of the early season tests for possible Champion Hurdle contenders. Some previous winners of this Grade 2 affair include Celestial Halo (2009 & 2011) and Zarkandar (2012).
Verdana Blue heads the market having already romped away from Old Guard in a listed hurdle at Kempton and winning on seasonal/flat debut in September. Nicky Henderson’s six-year-old son of Getaway has some good form to his name including a fourth place in Mares novice hurdle at Cheltenham behind Let’s Dance two seasons ago.
He needs to take things to a new level this season if he wants to win this but these initial runs would suggest that he has and could be a force to be reckoned with.
We Have A Dream represents a winning team of Henderson and Daryl Jacob!
He is unbeaten since moving to Seven Barrows and won four on the bounce last season with the highlight coming at Chepstow when emerging victoriously in the Grade 1 Future Champions Juvinelle hurdle.
It will be intriguing to see if he can continue the winning thread on Saturday and confirm that he has trained on.
If The Cap Fits had an immaculate start to life over hurdles with victories at Exter, Bangor and finally Kempton, on his only three runs last season. He wasn’t ever asked a serious question on any of these starts and was one of the talking horses last season.
However, injury ruled him out for the remainder of the season and the prospect of seeing him back in action is very exciting. If he resumes where he left off, then the opposition look in trouble
Selection: If The Cap Fits
This race has been an early-season target for Paul Nicholls, as the master of Ditcheath has been responsible for three of the last eight winners. Meanus Dandy(2010), The Minack(2011) and Present Man(2017).
Many eyes will be on El Bandit who’s having his first start in 543 days and he was last seen running away with a novice chase at Warwick. This was his only start over fences so it’s very hard to asses his handicap mark but if he resumes where he left off then a mark of 139 may prove lenient.
It’s another Nicholls’ inmate that tops the weights, Present Man won this last season off a mark of 142 under Bryony Frost. The pair reunite here twelve months on and given his very good record when fresh a repeat victory may be on the cards.
Sam Red provided amateur rider, William Marshall, with a big win at Cheltenham last month and Dan Skelton keeps the faith with him for this even bigger prize. He has always promised to land a decent handicap having run so well last season. This blossoming partnership could surprise a few people on Saturday.
Selection: Sam Red
ITV brings viewers one race from the home of the Grand National and it’s the lightly raced Hell’s Kitchen who looks set to start favourite for his valuable 2M 4F handicap chase. The Harry Fry-trained seven-year-old has only had eight career starts most notably when taking the scalp of Mister Whitaker in a novice chase at Kempton. He was last seen pulling up at Leopardstown but given natural progression, he must hold leading claims on seasonal debut.
Romain De Senam will have plenty of supporters on his second start after a wind op and he brings some very good form to the race having been placed at the Cheltenham festival in 2016. Paul Nicholls’ charge ran very well in some top handicap chases last season without getting his head in front and I expect him to run well but come up slightly short.
An interesting course and distance winner is the Pauline Robson trained Martiloo. The French-bred son of Martaline was a big improver last season, rarely running a bad race and ending the season 14 pounds higher. A slight negative is that he’s never won off the back of a break and will need to firing on all cylinders to win.
Others to consider are the consistent King’s Odyssey and the Philip Hobbs’ trained War Sound.
This 1M 4F handicap is the last big flat race on the final day of the British flat season. It has attracted some very nice types this year with last season’s winning combination of Ian Williams’ and Jim Crowley the logical starting point. They teamed up to land this with Saunter last season and are represented by Reshoun twelve months on.
Reshoun had run just adequately all season but showed a real spike in form when putting a decent Haydock field to the sword back in September. This race has obviously been the target since that run and he has a live chance.
John Gosden is the joint most winning trainer with five wins in the race and he is responsible for this year’s favourite Royal Line. The lightly raced son of Dubawi has won three of his six career starts and hasn’t been seen since winning an Epsom handicap in April. Gosden will be looking to take the record outright with this improving four-year-old.
One of the more likely outsiders is the Kevin Ryan trained Erik The Red, who’s been running well all season without getting his head in front. He’s now only two pounds higher than his last winning mark which also came at Doncaster. The only negative is that he’s never won over a trip this far and he has to prove he stays. Even so, Erik The Red should be bang there at the finish line.
Others to consider include Birds Of Prey who’s having the first run since a wind op, Now Children and the classy To Be Wild.