Unibet Handicap Chase
Only four horses go to post for this valuable handicap and the first to look at is the Paul Nicholls’ trained Capeland who has already had a fruitful campaign thus far, winning three of his five starts and going up a total of thirteen pounds for his troubles. The handicapper may just have the measure of him but he should still run a solid race.
It’s over two years since Poker School got his head in front over fences and for a horse with such ability that is a surprising fact. He’s been running well over the larger obstacles lately and has now dropped to a mark only five pounds higher than his last winning one, which should give him a live chance.
Yorkist is one of the older horses in the field but he’s also one of the most consistent with him finishing in the placings on 23 of his 42 career starts thus far. He won well at Aintree in November off a mark of 130 but now has an extra six-pound burden. He will undoubtedly go close but should be vulnerable to an improver.
Darebin completes the line-up for Gary and Jamie Moore, he is a course and distance winner but I think he will struggle here.
Selection: Poker School
This race has been won be some very smart horses in recent years, none more so than Summerville Boy who took this en-route to winning the Supreme Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Other notable winners include Finian’s Oscar, Yorkhill, French Holly and Desert Orchid.
This year’s pretenders list is headed by Rathhill, who was second on his debut on a point-to-point behind the well-touted Derby. He went on to make a very taking debut on te “racecourse proper” at Newbury on his first start for Nick Henderson. If the master of Seven Barrows thinks he’s good enough for this massive step up in class he probably is and looks the horse to beat.
Colin Tizzard has his string in great form and runs Elixir De Nutz in this, the French-bred son of Al Namix won a Grade 2 at Cheltenham in November and followed that up with an easy victory over the same course and distance in December. The long-term target will most likely be the Supreme at Cheltenham but he will have a good test here first.
Of the others Mercy Me Mercy Me is already Grade 2 placed over hurdles this season, Southfield Stone has won both starts over hurdles, Idee De Garde has only had the one start over hurdles and Grand Sancy has valuable big handicap experience but all look set for minor honours.
Veteran’s Handicap Chase
Buywise took this twelve months ago when proving two lengths too good for Pete The Feat. That victory was off a mark of 138 and although he has run very moderately so far this season, he gets in here off the exact same mark and could bounce back to form.
The aforementioned Pete The Feat is probably one of the most popular horses in training and I suppose that’s hardly surprising seeing that he’s as old as nearly some jockeys and has graced the winners’enclosure on twelve occasions. He runs off a two pound higher mark than when runner-up last season but unlike many proved his well-being behind Mendip Express most recently.
On Tour is interesting back down to his last winning mark but the only reservation I would have is that he saves his best runs for Aintree and with that in mind I’d wait until he returns to the Merseyside track.
The eleven-year-old Rock Gone heads the market and although he may be advancing in years, he’s only had fourteen career starts. The lightly raced gelding finished runner-up in a pair of decent handicaps on his last two starts including on seasonal debut behind Loose Chips. Gary Moore’s charge should come on from the run and looks primed for a big run.
Selection: Rock Gone
32 Red Handicap Hurdle
Monsieur Lecoq has from figures of “331” on British soil, which highlights his progressive profile. This French-import was particularly impressive when winning at Ffos Las and if he can improve on this form, then he must hold leading claims for a yard that does particularly well.
Thistimenextyear has been very consistent over both codes but expensive to follow. Richard Spencer’s five-year-old has finished runner-up on his last three starts and has gone up five pounds for his lastest placing, which on the face of it seems a little harsh. If he can improve slightly then a victory looks on the cards but perhaps not in this “hot” looking contest.
Demopolis carries top weight on the strength of two runs, one in his native France and one at Haydock where he ultimately finished well-behind the wide margin winner The Big Bite. That doesn’t tell the full story however as he travelled well until making a mistake at the least and with the benefit of that run behind he may get his head in front second time of asking in Britain.
Court Royale may prove best of the rest, Evan Williams’ charge ran a stormer to finish a never nearer ninth in the Betfair Hurdle. Prior to that run, he had won a small handicap at Taunton and a reproduction of either of those runs would see him go close.
Selection: Court Royale
racingtv Handicap Chase
Theinval seems to be a constant in these quality/competitive handicaps and in fairness always seems to be there or thereabouts at the business end, without getting his head in front too often. Nicky Henderson’s now nine-year-old has run respectably in two runs so far this season by one would imagine another crack at the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual will be his priority for the season, having finished third and fourth in the last two renewals.
Dr Richard Newland runs Catamaran Du Seuil in this and the seven-year-old ran well in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup to finish 8th but was ultimately outclassed. This represents a slight drop in grade and although he is vulnerable for win purposes, I could very easily see him running into a place
The French-bred Copain De Classe came with a lofty reputation but in truth, never really delivered on it. On seasonal debut at Sandown, he put in an impressive display, which earned him a crack at a listed event, where he ran too free for his own good. These runs have come following a wind-op which has evidently worked and perhaps he can start delivering on that promise.
Calipto has always been a very talented horse and although he may not have reached the heights once dreamed of after finishing fourth behind Tiger Roll in the 2014 Triumph Hurdle he has run well in some decent races. The nine-year-old is now in the care of Venetia Williams has gone up three pounds for unseating at the last when looking held just nine days ago, which may look slightly harsh. That being said a mark of 138 doesn’t look beyond him and if he stays upright then he should go close.