The £125,000 Grand Annual presents us with a fine mix of some pretty classy performers and some potential handicap blots at the bottom of the weights.
Whether it’s all about being way ahead of the handicapper or whether class tells in the end, we’ll have to wait and see. Either way, we are happy with the six we’ve chosen against this 20-runner field and it would be no surprise were any one of them to land this pot.
Fit having won in style at Newbury 24 days ago, Amarillo Sky is an important horse in this line-up.
His form entitles him to be considered as a major contender anyway, while he has also beaten Thyme White in the past who is also in the line-up.
The drier ground may be of some concern, but if Colin Tizzard’s horse handles underfoot conditions OK then he has a major shout.
A number of people will be looking get out of jail by this time of the day, Andy Dufresne potentially being the one they turn to in order to gain redemption.
Carrying a big weight, JP McManus’ runner has some fine past form. Back in December 2020 Gordon Elliott’s runner beat Embittered in a Grade 3 chase at Navan, while he was also placed at the same level when last seen over fences in November.
These quicker conditions may take some of the burden off his having to lump around 11st11lbs and he has class, though this is still a tough ask.
The yard of Sam Thomas is definitely a fine up-and-coming one and one of his leading lights could be Before Midnight.
The nine-year-old won three in a row before being sent to take on Shishkin, and despite finishing fourth of 4 he was beaten only 20 lengths which is not a bad effort at all.
He ran well in defeat last time too, but it was a handicap which begs the question has he done too much, and/or has he been now collared by the assessors?
Editeur Du Gite
Either side of unseating at the last fence of his race at Ascot in October, Editeur Du Gite has won four races and seemingly continues to get better and better.
His four-length win over Cheddleton on good to soft going last time represents strong form, while he was also successful the time before on the Old Course on good ground meaning conditions here should not worry him at all.
Elixir De Nutz
Another for the Colin Tizzard team and despite the comparative prices, Elixir De Nutz may well be their best hope.
Although finishing in seventh place on his last two hurdle starts, he did so in the International Hurdle (Grade 2) and the Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1) which shows you what the team thought of him at home.
Over fences he has been improving nicely and comes into this on the back of an easy win at Kempton for which he’s been raised 9lbs.
Paul Nicholls is being very deliberate at the meeting and he may just have plotted the perfect course for his Thyme White.
Twice a winner over hurdles, he took a little while to get going in that sphere and there is evidence again that we have not seen anything like the best of him yet over the larger obstacles.
Thyme White was second to today’s rival Amarillo Sky on debut before unseating at Ascot and then winning very smartly last time at Doncaster.
He may have been underestimated somewhat in the build-up to this event, looks well handicapped to us and should produce a career best off a mark that looks well within his compass.
It was hard to separate Amarillo Sky, Editeur Du Gite and Before Midnight but we did think that Elixir De Nutz and THYME WHITE stood out.
One important factor is their respective form with Dan Skelton’s Across The Line. Thyme White was at least 27lbs better than that horse when they met back in December and will of course have improved plenty since then.
Having not gone on, Across The Line ran to a very similar level as recently as February when Elixir De Nutz was around 24lbs better than him.
Thyme White in fact gets another pound from Elixir De Nutz too which puts him at the top of our list.