This is a fiercely competitive renewal and as such, we have managed to get the field down to no less than seven good contenders.
Furthermore, we’ve taken the calculated risk of not including such well-fancied runners as Mister Malarky, Cabaret Queen and On The Blindside but we are confident the below lucky 7 are the ones to concentrate on.
Nicky Henderson has such an enviable hand in this race, but Brave Eagle is not the one on most people’s lips. Regardless of reputation or price though, we reckon he has a huge chance.
He’s unfancied principally because he’s done all his work over fences thus far on good ground, but a look back at his hurdle form tells us that he was actually better on soft going and as such, we think he’s on for a career best here and at the weights, that’s something that would put him bang in with a chance.
De Rasher Counter
We’re always conscious that taking a jockey’s claim literally can be a slippery slope, so not taking Ben Jones’ 5lbs allowance into consideration means this horse has a solid, if not outstanding chance.
He put in a very good shift last time on heavy ground and was around Newbury last winter, so it seems conditions will not be against him. He looks just a fair each-way shout at this stage, but if his rider puts in a great shift then those 5lbs could look rather big come race time.
Now visored for the first time, Alan King will be looking for his gelding to improve on his third-place finish in this race last season, although there were no obvious excuses for him and he was beaten fully 17 lengths on that occasion.
It may well be that this contest is simply not for him, but taking into account his low mileage and the prospect of more improvement to come he has to make the shortlist.
Now blinkered for the first time and saddled with top weight, Elegant Escape has (almost) been there and done it in this race having finished runner-up to Sizing Tennessee twelve months ago.
He’s race fit now after a spin at Wetherby and there’s no reason to think he won’t put in another solid performance, though putting in one good enough to score off 11st12lbs would be a monumental effort for sure.
At around 5/1 having achieved relatively little over fences, many this week have spoken about how bad a favourite this horse is and that he should be twice the price.
That is true if taking only a cursory glance at his profile, but there’s something brewing with Nicky Henderson’s main candidate and on our ratings he indeed comes out top.
Over hurdles his best performance was a close second in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ at Cheltenham, showing that this sort of trip and ground will be right up his street, while in a short three-race chase career he’s won twice and wasn’t enjoying himself at the festival last season when pulled-up.
We think, as does his trainer we believe, that he is a 160+ horse and that as such he is actually very well-handicapped for this, something we can’t ignore regardless of his price in the market.
A fragile staying chaser; it’s great to see Robinsfirth back again and he did this column a favour when last seen out, winning the Grand National Trial at Haydock Park.
At his best he has a big each-way chance in this race, though enthusiasm is tempered somewhat given the uncertainty surrounding what ground conditions he truly wants.
A winner round Cheltenham last time, conditions seem ideal for Colin Tizzard’s charge but he was expected to win last time, he’s gone up in the weights now and after 13 chases there won’t be quite a ton of improvement left to come.
Nicky Henderson holds the key here, and while at around the crazy 33/1 mark we couldn’t put anyone off having a little tickle on Brave Eagle each-way, it may prove fruitful to stick with the hype and go in on this OK CORRAL.
True, his price looks skinny in advance of the race but it won’t seem that we if he wins at around 5/1 and to be fair we think it reflects his chances rather well. Dr Rasher Counter is next best after Brave Eagle.