1:40 One Magnificent City Manifesto Chase
Basically, this is Aintree’s equivalent of the JLT Novices’ Chase in that it fills the void in the spring for horses that are more comfortable at this intermediate race distance of 2m4f than the Maghull Novices’ Chase over 2m or the Mildmay Novices’ Chase over 3m1f. There are six runnings to work off (and two as a Grade 1 race) so the trends need time to find their feet. It is very early days of course but all six winners ran well in defeat at the Cheltenham Festival and were sent off in the first three in the betting. So far it is 3-3 between the Arkle and JLT in terms of which Cheltenham race the Manifesto winner contested but with no JLT representatives this year but four of the six declarations ran in the Arkle, it is long odds-on that the 2m novice chase championship will edge ahead.
Josses Hill (3rd) fared best of the four Arkle runners finishing one place ahead of Vibrato Valtat (4th) with Clarcam (8th) never a factor and who did not jump fluently and Three Kingdoms (9th) also did not run up to expectations. I suspect this quartet are running here as they don’t want to take on Un De Sceaux again in the 2m Grade 1 on Saturday though Josses Hill shaped like he might prefer a longer trip when a staying-on third at Cheltenham and the likely slower pace of an extra half-mile could help his jumping, I say ‘could’ as he jumped better in a fast-run race last time but he still lost ground at many of his fences. His trainer has won the Manifesto twice in its short history. Maybe this longer trip can help Clarcam’s jumping? He had jumped well in Ireland but looked uncomfortable from the get-go in the Arkle but he has a chance on his Irish Arkle second where he just beat the subsequent Grade 1 winner, Gilgamboa, into third. Three Kingdoms dropped right out in the Arkle so maybe Cheltenham’s undulations weren’t for him having shown his best form on flat tracks when second to Vibrato Valtat at Kempton and winning at Doncaster? His connections were considering the JLT in the lead up to Cheltenham as jockeys to have ridden him stated he would prefer further so now he gets his chance. He wasn’t outpaced in the Arkle though which just makes me think the course was against him.
Vibrato Valtat has pace so this step up in trip is a slight surprise. I suspected before the Arkle that he would pay for attempting to chase down Un De Sceaux which is what happened, even if Paul Nicholls stated beforehand that he would not be ridden that way. He is better than that and will be seen in a better light when he can pick off a leader that he doesn’t have to chase down with his turn of foot rather than having to do the donkey work. His trainer does not have a good record in this race however with Chapoturgeon (fell first) and Al Ferof (beaten 12 lengths) failing as favourite and, for horses to be sent off as fancied as 100/30, 11/4 and 11/2, three of his other contenders, who all bypassed Cheltenham, were most disappointing beaten 33 lengths, 24 lengths and 26 lengths respectively. The stable’s Cristal Bonus ran well to finish second three years ago after pulling up in the JLT where he returned with an abscess on his withers but his sole contender last year finished a tailed-off last of five. His name was Dodging Bullets.
The two horses not to contest the Arkle who line up are Cash And Go who was a smart handicap hurdler last season for Nicky Henderson and 2-3 in small novice chases for Venetia Williams and Val De Law who was running a big race when he fell at the last fence in a good novice chase at Exeter on his British debut for Jamie Snowden won by Southfield Theatre but was caught in the final 100 yards by Cash And Go at Leicester last month.
I can see JOSSES HILL and THREE KINGDOMS being more at home over this half-mile longer trip than in the Arkle (and also appreciate a flat track) more so than Vibrato Valtat who had loads of toe and whose trainer has a terrible record in this race, and also Clarcam who has to put a poor round of jumping behind him and this isn’t the track for that usually, so I’ll side with that pair to fight it out. With Geraghty injured, Nico De Boinville has picked up the spare ride on Josses Hill. However, I do have time for Val De Law who can reverse form with Cash And Go having promised much on his British debut. Three horses on a shortlist in a six-runner race is a bit cheeky but it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if he massively outran his odds. I think he is a good horse in the making.
2:15 Betfred Anniversary 4-Y.O Anniversary Hurdle
Eleven of the last 15 winners contested the Triumph Hurdle. No surprise that the Triumph should be the obvious starting point and especially since this race was elevated to Grade 1 status in 2005 and, since that upgrade, nine of the ten winners arrived here having either won or been placed at Prestbury Park, seven of which in the Triumph so that is where we will start. The highest-place finisher in today’s line up is Hargam (3rd) who finished one place but ten lengths clear of Devilment (4th) with Stars Over the Sea (8th) a further eight lengths adrift. It is hard to see that form being reversed especially in light of the fact that the overnight rain that fell was probably not to the liking of Hargam who has some toe about him as he showed when he won at Musselburgh.
The other winning pair to place at Cheltenham outside of the Triumph were Binocular, who finished second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Orsippus who was third in the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle and there are four Fred Winter representatives this season; the Paul Nicholls-trained pair of Bouvreuil (2nd) and All Yours (5th), Starchitect (4th) and Hostile Fire (19th). Hostile Fire was well fancied but was hampered at half-way and was keen before then, hence the application of a first-time hood here. Starchitect attempted to make all and battled on well to hang on for a place but they are tough tactics to pull off here and, surprisingly, McCain’s stats at all Aintree as a whole are poor, despite a Grand National win and Hargam beat him all ends up by 6l at Musselburgh. All Yours is 4lb better off with Bouvreuil for 3l but I rather suspect Nicholls fancied Qualando most of his trio that day given his post-race comments, which makes me wonder if they are really up to winning a Grade 1.
Three of the last seven Anniversary Hurdle winners ran in the Adonis in which All Yours was second.
So, Cheltenham Festival form looks a must then? Yes unless we are dealing with fillies as the last four successful female winners all missed the Festival. Four fillies going back to 1993 have won from fewer than 10% representation and this has been the main plan for Intense Tango since she won a weak Grade 2 mares hurdle at Doncaster in January. The trip of 2m2f at Kelso behind the high-class Glingerburn probably stretched her last time out.
Not since Mysilv, during the 1993/94 season, has the winner of Chepstow’s juvenile showpiece, the Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1) gone on to Triumph Hurdle glory yet five of the last 15 winners of the Anniversary Hurdle had finished in the first four at the Welsh track over the New Year period. Bristol De Mai was an impressive winner of that race this season but he has been beaten fair and square twice since and looks like he might be one for when the ground rides deep. The field is completed by Winner Massagot for Alan King who has won four of the last eight runnings. He won well at Kempton ten days ago but this is a different class of race altogether. Of the last 25 winners, all but four had won over hurdles at least twice and 17 of the last 20 winners had won or finished placed in Graded company earlier in the season so that wouldn’t be in his favour.
HARGAM looks a solid favourite in a race where Triumph Hurdle placed horses have a strong record and this flatter course is also expected to suit as is the faster ground than was the case for the opening race of Day 4 at the Cheltenham Festival. There is every chance he will travel strongly and will pick off the leader on the run-in under a patient ride but at around Evens, his superiority has more than been factored into his price. Bristol De Mai is his biggest rival on the figures but I am not sure a flat 2m on ground faster than soft is what will bring the best out of him so maybe INTENSE TANGO rates as the best alternative and of each-way interest at a double-figure price (or betting without Hargam) given how well fillies have performed in this race from few runners with their 7lb allowance and flat tracks look to suit her well. Dropping back to 2m can almost suit. Alan King’s record means we should respect Winner Massagot but DEVILMENT would be the final shortlisted horse. He has 10l to find with Hargam from the Triumph but the rain probably also did him few favours having impressed on good ground when he won at Doncaster.
2:50 Betfred Bowl
Naturally the Gold Cup has to be the starting point and 20 of the 31 winners took their chance in the blue riband of the jumps season. This year’s Bowl will be the sixth running as a Grade 1 race but I would argue that last year’s winner, Silviniaco Conti was the first top-notcher to win it for 13 years. The main reason for this is that the highest class staying chasers who had a hard race in the Gold Cup either bypass the race or have left their best form behind at Prestbury Park plus the best of the Irish tend to wait for Punchestown and they are unrepresented again. Last year’s winner is back again and not off quite as hard a race as he had in last year’s Gold Cup in seventh one place ahead of Smad Place (but hard enough given the gallop Coneygree set on softer ground than 12 months earlier) and there is an argument that he should start favourite off the back of his King George win but Holywell looks like he will start favourite after a very good fourth in the Gold Cup on rain-softened ground that went against him overnight. Can he recover in time after that run? I usually argue the case to overlook horses placed 1-2-3 in the Gold Cup as of the last 11 placed horses in the Gold Cup to run here, only Exotic Dancer has won and all 11 would have been very much to the fore in the betting. The omens are good for Holywell however as he put up an even better performance at Aintree last season when he won the novice chase beating a high quality field than he did than when he won at Cheltenham three weeks earlier and there is an extra week from which to recover. Smad Place has shown more than once that proper Grade 1 races are just beyond him.
Of the last 18 winners, nine finished in the first four in the King George VI Chase earlier in the season which is a big positive for Silviniaco Conti. Menorah also ran but he finished eighth and has not run since. Menorah could have run in the Ryanair where he would have been top rated on official figures but connections decided to hold him back for this race in which he was a narrow second to First Lieutenant two years ago. Grey Abbey and Nacarat both won the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in the autumn earlier in the same season as winning this race and, a little further back, Barton Bank was second in the Charlie Hall the season he won this race and Our Vic won the Charlie Hall in 2006 two years before he won the Bowl which bodes well for Menorah who won that contest in style back in late October. The fact he is the oldest horse in the race at ten doesn’t worry me. The Gold Cup winner has not been aged above ten since way back in 1969 yet as many as eight horses aged 11+ have won the Bowl since it was first run in 1984. From 31 runnings, horses aged 10+ have won on 14 occasions which is even more of an eyebrow-raiser when we consider that they have not only been comprehensively outnumbered but have also been totally unrepresented on occasions. Contrast this with the record of horses 10+ in the Gold Cup for example where only Cool Dawn of the older contingent has come out on top since 1992.
I would not go quite as far to say that this race has been a front runner’s paradise but for 13 of the 31 runnings to have been won by the pacesetter is one heck of a strike rate so should be of interest to in-running punters. Perhaps Vukovar will front run here like he usually does but he is trying a longer trip so that’s not a given. This is his first run since switching from Harry Fry to Warren Greatrex. He needs to improve but if this trip can do that, he is dangerous if allowed an uncontested lead. He is a big, heavy horse however so I question whether the ground is ideal for him.
Ma Filleule has proven she stays this far having finished second to Holywell at Cheltenham last year but her big positive is her jumping and maybe that is likely to seen to better effect over a shorter trip? The counter argument to that is there are more fences so she can make more ground. Runner-up in the Ryanair to a horse who never looked like getting caught, that was a step up on her Ascot Chase second but I think she needs to improve again. Ballynagour missed Cheltenham as he wasn’t firing and is now tried in a first-time hood. The absence of 131 days doesn’t worry me but the trip does having been at his best over 2m and 2m5f last season. It’s a leap of faith if you back him.
It would be no surprise to see Silviniaco Conti bounce back on a flat course having never really shone during his career at Cheltenham but HOLYWELL looks like a spring horse who can build on his Gold Cup fourth on unsuitable ground having been so impressive at this meeting last year after he won at the Festival and he has an extra week from which to recover this time and McCoy takes over from McLernon. MENORAH has been trained for this race since the King George and the more the ground dries out the better his chance. I would have been very sweet on him each-way if there was an eighth runner so it looks like a win bet instead. Vukovar is the fascinating contender having his first run for Warren Greatrex and stepping up markedly in trip. It could be completely the wrong move but, in a race where front runners have a great record, it could be a genius move if they choose to front run trying a longer distance. He might be one for in-running punters. I am just not convinced this is Ma Filleule or Ballynagour’s best trip and Smad Place keeps getting beat in good races.
3:25 Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle
Seven horses have been declared to take part in the only Grade 1 hurdle race run over 2m4f in Britain including two former Champion Hurdle winners, Rock On Ruby and Jezki, and this season’s Champion Hurdle runner-up, Arctic Fire and it will be a surprised if the winner doesn’t emanate from this trio who should dominate the market.
The down-to-the-wire battle between The New One and Rock On Ruby last year added to the many fantastic finishes that this race has served up down the years but few, however, will argue that the epic duel between Night Nurse and Monksfield who dead-heated in 1977 does not top the bill. The performance of Night Nurse on that occasion is still officially the greatest ever by a hurdler as he was giving 6lb to Monksfield. Last season’s renewal has been a big guide down the years and when successful last year The New One became the eighth Aintree Hurdle winner in the last 14 runnings to have won at this three-day meeting in the past having won the Bumper beating My Tent Or Yours. The New One’s victory also meant that seven of the last 15 winners had contested the previous season’s renewal having finished second to Zarkandar the previous year, six of which finished in the first four. This time it will be Rock On Ruby attempting to go one place better than 12 months earlier and this is surely his best trip so can he become the first British-trained winner that bypassed Cheltenham as all 20 home-based winners ran at The Festival? He was all set to take his chance in the World Hurdle but worked poorly the week before so it was decided to freshen him up for this contest. If successful at the age of ten, he would become the joint oldest winner alongside Mister Morose in a poor year. With Arctic Fire and Jezki in opposition, this is not a poor year.
Four of the last five winners had finished second, third or fourth in the Champion Hurdle but given that 26 of the 38 Aintree Hurdle winners in total ran in that race, but only six since 1999, that does suggest it is not as crucial a guide as in its early years, even if it was run over 2m5f in those days and a furlong shorter now which should theoretically suit Champion Hurdle contenders better. Contenders from this season’s Champion Hurdle are Arctic Fire (2nd), Jezki (4th) and Vaniteux (8th). Remarkably, only one of the last 14 Champion Hurdle runners-up to take their chance has won which is a stat against Arctic Fire but I would be more worried whether he will be as effective over 2m4f having not run beyond 2m before as he has plenty of speed and Willie Mullins is even considering the Melbourne Cup for him. That said, Solwhit, Khyber Kim and Zarkandar have won this race recently having not won at 2m before. After he finished second in the Champion Hurdle, Mullins commented that he would only keep on improving. I was keen on the each-way chances of Jezki in the Champion Hurdle but he disappointed me finishing fourth. I also worry about three flights in the home straight and he has belted the final hurdle on four times in his career and it’s a short enough run-in. Unlike Arctic Fire, however, we know he will relish 2m4f having won the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle over this trip. What I do find significant, however, going back over this longer trip, is that they ditched the hood.
Sticking with Cheltenham form and there was a five-year spell between 1997-2001 when, curiously, runners-up in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December had a remarkable record with Bimsey, Pridwell and Barton going one place better here but the last three winners of that Grade 2 race to take their chance have both won with The New One emulating Zarkandar and Khyber Kim in completing that particular double. This season’s Stan James International Hurdle went the way of The New One (misses the race through injury) who beat Vaniteux into second.
Blue Heron beat a below-par Irving when winning the Kingwell Hurdle and ran okay on his only start over around this trip but he looks at his best forcing it over 2m. A canny ride from the front could see him outrun his odds. Melodic Rendezvous is back to hurdling after a poor round of jumping in the Pendil Novices’ Chase and would prefer it to be much softer than the official good-to-soft at present. The field is completed by Volnay De Thaix who was 2¼l behind Rock On Ruby at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and then a good fifth in the Coral Cup. If any horse can shake up the big three, it might be him but seven runners rules him out of being a serious each-way option.
Rock On Ruby
Given that there have been as many as 38 runnings of this prize, the Irish have a fantastic record winning 18 of them despite been comprehensively outnumbered and they have a great opportunity to enhance their strong record further still with Arctic Fire and JEZKI likely to occupy to the first two positions in the market. Over this trip I prefer Jezki if he jumps well. The Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown has been their best guide of late in which Jezki finished second to Hurricane Fly with Arctic Fire back in third. Only 1¾ lengths covered all three. ROCK ON RUBY has the strongest form claims of the British defence against a strong Irish challenge having finished second last year splitting the New One and Diakali in a three-way photo (but I think this is a better race) and I think that is more important than the fact that every home-trained winner of this race had run at the Cheltenham Festival.
4:05 Crabbie’s Fox Hunters’ Chase
This is the best renewal of this race I’ve seen in a long time featuring last year’s impressive winner, Warne, the runaway Cheltenham Foxhunters’ winner, On The Fringe, the former Topham third, Last Time D’Albain, being the pick of the Irish and Pacha Du Polder, Twirling Magnet, Big Fella Thanks and Current Event looking the best of the Brits. Prior to Tartan Snow’s 100/1 victory two years ago, this had been an excellent race for punters with 18 of the previous 20 winners sent off in the first four in the betting.
The Foxhunters’ at the Cheltenham Festival is the most important race of the season for hunter chasers closely followed by this Crabbie’s-sponsored event but there is a marked difference in the type of horse required for each race so it is not altogether unsurprising that few winners at Cheltenham have attempted to double up in this prestigious race which is what the Enda Bolger-trained On The Fringe is attempting to achieve. Only the same trainer’s Elegant Lord in 1999 (for the same owner) and last year’s winner, Warne, have inscribed their names on the Roll of Honour in the last 31 years for the Irish which is a very poor return for a nation steeped in history in the point-to-point and hunter chase field. I think they will win it again though and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had the 1-2-3.
Four of the last 13 winners ran in the Foxhunters’ at Cheltenham including two of the last four, Baby Run and Cloudy Lane, both of which had previous experience of the Grand National fences. On The Fringe will be attempting to emulate Double Silk who in 1993 became the last horse to complete the double. Only three winners at Cheltenham have attempted to double up in the subsequent 21 years with two unseating their riders and the other finishing sixth. The previous horse to complete the Cheltenham-Aintree double was Grittar in 1981 who went on to win the Grand National the following season. Prior to him it was Spartan Missile in 1979 who went on to finish second to Aldaniti in the Grand National two years later. Since those days, Eliogarty, Cavalero, Elegant Lord and Baby Run have won both races but not in the same season. On The Fringe was the widest-margin winner at the Festival and looked like he had just joined in turning for home and this is considered to be more his trip so he has a huge shout. The rain came for him in time at Cheltenham as he does like a cut in the ground and the less it dries out, the better his chance.
Last year’s easy winner Warne has been trained 100% for the race and bypassed Cheltenham like last year and he won a point-to-point the day after the Gold Cup as his final prep race. Feeling rather bold after Warne blew his rivals away in last year’s Aintree Fox Hunters’ under Aintree specialist Sam Waley-Cohen, I tweeted after that he would win it for the next two years as well but I wasn’t expecting the opposition to be as hot this year and his trainer has commented that he hasn’t had absolutely the perfect preparation. The third big Irish contender is Last Time D’Albain who has also been trained for this race having finished third in the Topham two years ago. Last seen beating the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ second and fourth in the last two years, Carsonstown Boy, all looks set for a big run.
As many as 22 of the last 24 winners of the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ have been aged ten or younger. However, what age we should be looking to for this hunter chase could not contrast any more differently as all but two of the last 31 winners have been aged at least nine so a very different type of horse is required. In fact, the 1-2-3-4-5 were aged 11+ last year. On that basis the eight-year-old Current Event is up against it and has to bounce back from a poor run at Cheltenham where he was fancied but couldn’t complete a nine-timer (seven of those wins coming in point-to-points). The best British hope looks to be Twirling Magnet, a first-fence faller in the Grand National last year but a ready winner of his last two hunter chases for Jonjo O’Neill. Also in total contrast to the Cheltenham Festival equivalent is the early origins of most recent winners as ten of the last 13 winners were former handicappers under Rules rather than being brought up through the point-to-point ranks unlike the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ Chase where 23 of the last 26 winners started their career down the traditional point-to-point/hunter chase route. Pacha Du Polder represents Paul Nicholls who was a smart handicapper winning the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury beating Big Fella Thanks and won a hunter chase well last time out after a decent second to Teafortheee. The 13-year-old Big Fella Thanks has loads of experience over these fences and golden oldies have a good record in the race so he is not one to rule out of getting into the mix, especially with Derek O’Connor in the saddle and has been in great heart of late almost winning a valuable handicap chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and then winning a hunter chase.
On The Fringe
Last Time D’Albain
No apologies for being boring regards the short list but this is a race usually dominated by the leading fancies for the win and places so you might want to consider perming them in various exactas and trifectas, maybe even an Irish 1-2-3 as I would have Warne, On The Fringe and Last Time D’Albain at the top of my list with Twirling Magnet as best of the Brits. If WARNE is in the same form as last year and gets into the same rhythm out in front, he will prove hard to peg back and 6/1 each-way is fair enough. ON THE FRINGE is likely to be given a patient ride to creep into it and is at the top of his game and won so easily at Cheltenham that he may not have taken too much out of himself and there is an extra week between the two races this year. I couldn’t put you off splitting stakes on the pair and having them in a reverse exacta. LAST TIME D’ALBAIN has valuable course experience and also enters the race in great nick and can go well.
4:40 Betfred Red Rum Handicap Chase
If down the years you had looked to a novice, preferably aged eight or younger, who came here on the back of a solid run at the Cheltenham Festival and was towards the lower-middle sector of the handicap, then you will have enjoyed a whale of a time of a time of it. Novices have won seven of the last 13 runnings so Royal Regatta, Ted Veale, Dresden, Enjoy Responsibly and Pearls Legend are respected (though Ted Veale and Pearls Legend are second-season chasers).
Seven of the last 16 winners had previously taken part in the Grand Annual at the Cheltenham Festival. No shock of course that the Grand Annual should be the best guide by a considerable margin given that the Red Rum Chase and Grand Annual are the two most prestigious two-mile handicap chases run all season and take place within a month of each other, but to the extent of winning almost half of the last 16 runnings? Yes, the Grand Annual is well represented in the Red Rum but they are still over-performing in a notable way. Representatives this year are Next Sensation (1st), Ned Buntline (4th), Ted Veale (7th), Astracad (11th), Bellenos (13th) and Dresden (fell). This flat track could suit Next Sensation even better than Cheltenham being a free-going front runner. It had proven hard going for the winner to double up until fairly recently but successes for Fota Island and Oh Crick in the last 11 years have changed that. Their recent record reads: 31PF192 but he is off an 8lb higher mark and this season’s Festival was favouring front runners. Bellenos is tried in a first-time blinkers today but if I was to take just one from the Grand Annual it would be the novice, Dresden, who fell four out when disputing a close third. Ned Buntline didn’t get the clearest of passages but also made too made niggly mistakes and that worries me here.
Last season’s renewal can also be a good guide and has featured three of the last eight winners and last year’s winner, Parsnip Pete, is back as is the third, Claret Cloak (and fourth, Astracad). The record of the defending title holder over the last decade reads: 27P9RF6 and he is off a 10lb higher mark than 12 months ago. He does love Aintree though having beaten Surf And Turf into second here in October and both look like they have been trained for this race. Surf And Turf has not run since and is interesting having easily won his previous race at Aintree. Claret Cloak has also been off since the autumn and has Sean Bowen taking off a valuable 5lb
Surf And Turf
Being a novice who was running well in the Grand Annual, then DRESDEN will appeal to trends followers so he makes it onto the short list. SURF AND TURF was second to Parsnip Pete here in October and has not run since having won his only other start at Aintree by an easy 9l and he could be the each-way value of the race for a small yard. The top weight CLARET CLOAK has been threatening to win a quality 2m handicap chase for a while and was third in this race last season after filling the same position in the Grand Annual. He arrives here very fresh and has the boy wonder in Sean Bowen taking 5lb off his back so he also makes each-way appeal. I like it when Henry De Bromhead sends over horses to Britain, especially novices, and Enjoy Responsibly could go under the radar with names like Ned Buntline and Ted Veale travelling over from Ireland. The Irish are chasing a seventh win in this race since it was first run in 1977. However, I have had ARNAUD in mind for this race for a long time who likes a fast 2m and he returned to better form last time out and will appreciate this faster ground than he has been used to this season. He used to hare off in front like in last year’s race where he finished ninth but has been held up for his last few starts.
5:15 Injured Jockeys Fund Handicap Hurdle
Six of the last nine runnings have gone the way of a novice so, in common with the 2m4f handicap at this fixture, this race has proved a happy hunting ground for first-season hurdlers. The novices this year are The Tourard Man and Marinero who both ran at the Cheltenham Festival and 14 winners of the 27 renewals ran at that meeting.
This is effectively the Aintree equivalent race of the Pertemps Network Final (minus the 20 qualifying races) so it is no surprise to see that handicap at Cheltenham have a bearing with six winners here having run in that Final since 1988. It is worth noting that although the Pertemps Final is the more valuable of the two races, that contest only has Listed status whereas this race was raised to Grade 3 level in 2010 so it should theoretically be the stronger of the two handicaps. This season’s Pertemps 1-2-3 of Call The Cops (Cape Tribulation completed the double), Unique De Cotte and The Tourard Man cross swords again and J P McManus also runs Regal Encore (7th) and Join The Clan (8th). McCoy has switched this time from Regal Encore to Unique De Cotte. Of that quintet, I like the Alan King-trained The Tourard Man most who is a progressive novice that could improve again. King also runs Ulzanas Raid who has a chance if he likes Aintree as much as Cheltenham.
The fancied Dawalan was back in sixteenth in the Pertemps and is a five-year-old as is Katgary, an impressive winner at Newbury last time out and well to the fore in the betting for this race, but the only winners of that age were Escartefigue and Time For Rupert and both went on to make top-notch chasers.
Jonjo O’Neill is best known for his stayers and he has won this race four times in the last 13 years so it is surprising that he has ran just one horse in the last four years. This year he runs Join The Clan and the hat-trick chasing Master Malt from the bottom of the handicap who is also owned by J P McManus.
The Irish have won this handicap just twice and not since Ross Moff in 2002. He was trained by Tony Martin who runs Marinero who finished in midfield in the Coral Cup. Fourth in that Coral Cup beaten only a length was Taglietelle who travelled notably well and made his ground easily in a race where the prominent racers dominated. Whether he stays 3m though has to be taken on trust. Apache Jack for the Irish Grand National-winning stable of Sandra Hughes returns to hurdling (he had little physical scope for chasing) in a first-time visor and last season’s Albert Bartlett third is also likely to appreciate this ground so I have time for him.
The Tourard Man
Being a novice and a horse who ran well in the Pertemps Final, THE TOURARD MAN has plenty going for him and would top my list and I like him most of those who ran at the Festival just ahead of TAGLIETELLE who moves up in trip and is a big player if he stays. Both were placed at Cheltenham. Pulled up at Cheltenham was APACHE JACK but that was in the RSA Chase and this is more his game as he isn’t the biggest for chasing and a strongly-run 3m miles over hurdles can bring the best out of this brother to Black Jack Ketchum and the first-time visor makes him more interesting. Given Jonjo O’Neill’s touch with stayers and his affinity for this race, MASTER MALT is also shortlist material chasing a hat-trick off joint bottom weight.