The short-priced favourite here is likely to be Nicky Henderson’s Verdana Blue, but even with the assistance of Ryan Moore her handicap mark looks tough and she may just be too short a price. With that in mind, these six make the shortlist and it may well be another jumps horse who ultimately lifts the prize.
Ian Williams has two on the shortlist, which probably isn’t a surprise in this 2½-mile event, with this two-time flat winner on the turf preferred from his yard.
Ridden by today’s jockey Cieren Fallon, Blue Laureate was a close-up second behind Moon King at Haydock recently in a race which probably provides the best recent form guide and he should once again go very close should he suffer no bad luck in running.
Andrew Balding has been flying since the resumption of racing and so we can expect his runners in races such as this to run to form, in fact in the case of a five-year-old stayer with just 14 races under his belt who won very easily when last seen, we can even expect a new career high.
That easy win for Diocletian came at Chester in September over 1m6f but he shapes as though this extra distance will be well within his compass and his handicap mark is fine.
After a slow enough start in 2017 it has been a case of almost constant improvement from this horse and he simply has to go well in this under his regular partner David Probert. Huge chance.
Another for Ian Williams and another who ran behind Moon King at Haydock, this time in fourth. On the bare form it would seem Mancini is a little behind Blue Laureate at this stage, however this would only be his second run for the yard and should the Worcestershire trainer be able to coax more improvement from the six-year-old he could be on for a huge run.
Anthony Carson has moved to book Frankie Dettori for Pianissimo and that may prove to be a very shrewd move given how competently the Italian has nudged Stradivarius to Gold Cup victories over the same course and distance.
As for this four-year-old he’s lightly raced and could yet prove to be an improver, the only negative being that his wins so far have come on the all-weather with his turf form thus far at a distinctly lower level. He’s hard to judge accurately on form.
Mark Johnston knows how to get the job done here in big competitive handicaps, as does jockey Silvestre De Sousa so Rochester House cannot be ignored.
The four-year-old was third in that Moon King race at Haydock recently and it would seem as though he will have come on for that run, something that makes his handicap mark look OK although strictly speaking improvement is needed as he is still 5lbs higher than his last winning mark – a victory at Catterick last summer.
A top-notch National Hunt trainer may well win this race, but while all the focus will be on Nicky Henderson and Verdana Blue it may well be that Paul Nicholls and San Benedeto sneak home to land the prize instead.
This nine-year-old is a ten-time winner over the jumps, while he appears to be handicapped on the flat based on six runs in France back in 2013. On a line through how he performed over hurdles when transferred to Nicholls compared to his more recent form, it seems he could very easily outperform his rating of 85 here and there’s no doubt he’ll be seeing this out right to the line under Tom Eaves which puts him right at the top of the list.
Ian Williams has a strong hand with Blue Laureate the most likely to put his best foot forward, while the bang in-form Andrew Balding has hooded Diocletian for the first time and there is undoubtedly more improvement to come from that one.
The most intriguing runner however is the nicely priced entrant of Paul Nicholls’ yard, SAN BENEDETO, who looks capable of supplementing wins in the Greatwood Cup and the Maghull Novices’ Chase over jumps with a Royal Ascot success on the flat.