Having regained the sponsorship of the event, Paddy Power gives this race somewhat of a familiar look and the competitive 2½-mile event is as high quality as ever.
There are some unknown quantities here over fences, mixed with some who may have for now reached their handicapping peak, but on all known evidence these six look the ones to concentrate on:
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horses appear to be in rare old form, so we can afford to be optimistic when attempting to predict Al Dancer’s level of progression now he goes up to this trip over fences in a proper race.
Having seen out the 2m5f at Newton Abbot last time it seems stamina won’t be an issue, and so it comes down to basic ability with the former Grade 3 hurdle winner.
That ability is not a matter of fact however some evidence points to him being very well handicapped. Last time in a four-runner race he won easily enough when not fully wound up, earning him a mark of 158 which looks to seriously underestimate him.
Before that back in November and January of last season, Al Dancer was mixing it with Put The Kettle On, a Festival winner now rated 154 who he gave 10lbs to, as well as Rouge Vif who he also beat while conceding 3lbs and that one is now rated 164 after coming out here last month and roaring to victory.
There are major plusses and negatives with this one. After only five chase races there should be plenty of progression to come from Evan Williams’ horse, especially coming from a low base.
However, at nine years old and having been held on 4 of those five runs over fences it could be that there isn’t as much improvement to come as first thought and so while he makes the list, he is passed over for win purposes.
Challenging for favouritism here, which isn’t a surprise for a six-year-old trained by Nicky Henderson, Mister Fisher has form that ties in with Al Dancer having beaten him at Doncaster last January.
He only carries 1lb more here so if we like the Twiston-Davies horse we kind of have to like this one, and in finishing fourth to Samcro in the Marsh Novices’ at Grade 1 level we know he can handle it round here.
The negative side to that run is that such races tend to drag every ounce out of them and so we know more or less where Mister Fisher is at, while his old rival still has more progress to offer up.
This former French runner has been the subject of many a bet in the build-up to this race. Paul Nicholls is of course a master at getting the best out of such animals and clearly there is a lot expected of Saint Sonnet now, though he was trusted to run in the Marsh at the Festival and ran the way a 33/1 shot should.
Despite finishing seventh then, beaten 13 lengths, he was raised 2lbs and it is far from certain that his mark of 147 has underestimated him enough to make him a genuine favourite for a tough handicap chase.
Simply The Betts
A very well-backed winner for this column at the Festival when he took the Stable Plate, Simply The Betts has chasing form figures of 11211 and that has clearly influenced his price.
He arguably didn’t improve however between his Cheltenham wins on the New Course in January and March, and he didn’t need too hence him being well backed, so the fact he’s gone up 8lbs now and tackles even harsher company means enthusiasm is tempered.
An interesting one for Colin Tizzard at a fair price, Slate House is ten runs into his chasing career now but still has more to offer up.
Having won over three miles he’s the type to be staying on at the death here, however the Old Course even on softer ground can be about pace between fences and it’s not certain that this chap has enough of it in such exalted company.
If able to pull out more improvement, which remains at least possible, then Simply The Betts can’t be ignored while Mister Fisher has some top form and isn’t done yet.
At these weights however and considering the upward course he is on at the trip, AL DANCER looks like being the smart call.