The Grand National fences are put to use in this fiercely competitive 2m5f, 30-runner chase and we’ve painstakingly managed to reduce the field down to a solid final six.
Some have quirks of course, but all are expected to be in the front rank and have attracted money this week with the selection remaining a fair price to land the £140,000 feature handicap on Ladies Day.
Tom George’s runner has a great profile for this race, for despite having run really well at the Cheltenham Festival over 3m1f his best performances have been at this exact distance, the ground is fine for him this time and he has only fallen once over fences so positives are to the fore.
His demolition job in the Graduation Chase at Haydock over the winter is his key piece of form, though he backed that up on softer ground in Ascot’s version with a fine close second to Kildisart too. He should appreciate conditions here and is bound to go well under Tom Scudamore.
Well beaten behind Clan Des Obeaux in February, though that was of course expected, he’s been rested for this and having skipped the Festival he will be one to surely put his best foot forward today.
Having moved very steadily up the two-and-a-half mile ranks Nigel Twiston-Davies’ eight-year-old actually gets into this race off a mark 2lbs lower than when a good third at Cheltenham in January so given that he is bound to have improved since then, he is a major player in this.
His only fall came at this venue over on the Mildmay course but as a winner there as recently as December, we don’t see his jumping as a worry and he stands a major chance of victory.
With solid overall form and conditions just about right underfoot we should expect a solid round of jumping from Paul Henderson’s charge, but being ten years old now and still 7lbs higher than when last winning at Chepstow it’s easy to believe he’s somewhat in the assessor’s grip and won’t be the best treated horse in the line-up.
Soundly beaten three times over the winter before a good fifth at Cheltenham, the popular grey has it in him to win a race of this nature but despite only being an 8yo his handicap mark continues to reduce without him getting his head in front, perhaps suggesting he continues to regress.
Nigel Twiston-Davies probably feels he has a fair grip of this race with his Ballyhill well fancied, so this horse being his second choice probably just tempers enthusiasm a little for win purposes as far as Tom Bellamy’s mount is concerned.
Not in great form at all the last twice but a fine third over the course and distance over these fences in the Sefton back in the winter, Nicky Henderson’s gelding it can be said is back to the scene of easily his best run in recent times.
The only proper negative is that he may have wanted the ground even softer than it is but being one who won’t fear the obstacles here, he has to make the shortlist.
Not too many horses win this under big weights, but carrying 11-4 and being trained by Paul Nicholls this San Benedeto cannot be ruled out and comes here a last time out winner having scored in the Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury in March.
That victory means he comes into the race in rare form but having gone up 7lbs and having not been prolific in recent times, it may be that he runs into a place without threatening to win until his weight is once again reduced slightly.
A hugely competitive race then and even among our chosen six cases can be made from all different angles for various horses, but given the age and stage of Doitforthevillage and the poor recent form of Kilcrea Vale who likes it around here, there remain doubts about major contenders.
Preference then is for Nigel Twiston-Davies’ BALLYHILL who just ticks so many boxes in the context of this event and who is afforded the rare bonus of moving up the ranks while at the same time having been reduced a couple of pounds, thus making him potentially well handicapped.