Otherwise known lovingly as the Fred Winter, this juvenile handicap hurdle is as competitive as ever and owing to the lack of experience within the field, just as tough to solve too.
If the weather dries the track out a little overnight, then on the Old Course over two miles we can afford to consider speed as much as other factors, leaving us with these six on our shortlist:
Mastercraftsman’s progeny seem to barely get a mile-and-a-quarter on the flat, so Joseph O’Brien’s runner shouldn’t be lacking too much in the speed department.
The issue may come in the latter part of the race, considering that Busselton was running well way up at Grade 1 level last time but weakened late on. On this tough uphill finish, he’ll need to have plenty of reserves for sure.
Taking in his run in Auteuil when trained in France as well as his 2nd and 3rd in Ireland since, he has improved a little on each run but won’t necessarily have tons in hand at the weights.
A very solid each-way proposal, Dan Skelton’s Cabot Cliffs is one of the more experienced runners in the field and yet as an easy last-time-out winner, apparently has more to come.
That being said, he was pretty much unchallenged when winning from the front at Warwick as the 4/7 favourite ran below expectations. In a field this strong you can guarantee there’ll be plenty waiting in the wings to tackle him as they round the final bend for this contest.
Overpriced by our reckoning is Oliver Greenall’s Homme Public, a winner at Market Rasen last time out. That success was achieved in such a fashion that it makes him hard to evaluate, in a positive way that is, as we have no idea where the bottom of him is yet.
If we’re looking for the numbers to back this up too, we must consider that Houx Gris is favourite for this race, has been described as a potential handicap blot and yet beat Homme Public in France in October off level weights by just a neck. This horse now carries 3lbs less than his rival.
The aforementioned race in France put this horse on Paul Nicholls’ radar, who now trains him at Ditcheat. He’s had just the one run in Britain since moving across the water, a third-placed finish at 13/2 at Chepstow in Grade 1 company.
He was thrown in at the deep and there, but he was beaten fully 23 lengths and is now rated 128, meaning we’re not quite getting this “handicap blot” talk.
That’s not to say he isn’t a thoroughly decent hurdler in the making of course, and he could yet make his mark in this race.
Easily the most overpriced runner in this contest, Sage Advice could be 20/1 or bigger for this and that is just ridiculous.
Dr Richard Newland’s runner only made his hurdling debut in January when he won at Kempton, performing to a level that would make him well handicapped off his current mark of 127.
So, when you consider he will have no doubt improved since then you can see why he should go well, despite having been beaten twice since his debut.
Those two defeats were on bottomless ground which won’t have helped his cause and we can expect a much better performance now, one that makes him a serious contender here.
Challenging for favouritism is Willie Mullins’ Saint Sam, unsurprisingly, and his form has indeed been solid over hurdles thus far.
He’s rated 136 and so has some weight to carry, but having finished six lengths behind Zanahiyr and five lengths behind Quilixios at the top level so far, he must certainly be considered a major contender.
While he has been running at a higher level, his being beaten on all three starts in Ireland gives us a proper idea of his ability and so with that we can’t say for certain he’s well handicapped.
There are plenty in with chances then, but given the weight of feeling behind Houx Gris we cannot ignore the chances Homme Public who has a solid each-way chance.
The one we like most of all however considering the conditions is SAGE ADVICE and he gets the nod. But for very heavy ground, Sam Twiston-Davies’ mount may well have gone on to improve 10lbs or so since his debut win on these shores, making him potentially the best handicapped horse in the race.