We have a tough task here; an 18-runner field for a 3¼-mile handicap chase worth £200,000, but we have managed to whittle them down to a shortlist of six, helped by the fact that we believe fancied runner The Conditional may not be well handicapped at present.
What we need to second guess here is whether or not Jedburgh trainer Harriet Graham’s Aye Right will continue his improvement.
Despite winning only one of his 5 chases to date, he has been climbing the ladder beating Mulcahys Hill in January, running second in a good handicap at Kelso in October and finishing a 7-length third to Cyrname in the Charlie Hall last time.
While he may get better yet, going up 4lbs in the weights for finishing second at Kelso doesn’t fill us with confidence so while he may go well off 11st he is passed over for the win.
The most fascinating horse in the race. Colin Tizzard’s six-year-old was improving hand over fist in four chase runs last season as a novice, scoring at Wincanton, round this course and distance and also at Ascot ever so easily.
The upshot was that he wasn’t sent off the 6/1 fourth-favourite for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
While he ultimately weakened out of that race and fell at the last, Copperhead was expected to be right up there with Champ, Minella Indo and Allaho. The level he would have needed to get to there, cross-referenced with the relative form of the horses he’s beaten previously, puts him some way ahead of his actual handicap mark and that is something we simply cannot ignore.
Kildisart has been brilliant for the Ben Pauling yard, another season of improvement last year culminating in him finishing a very close second to The Conditional at Cheltenham in March.
Despite his heroics, his form figures over fences last year were 36652 and he’s up another 4lbs now. To keep running well is one thing and he makes the list based on that, but to be beaten again and again and never get a break from the handicapper makes him hard to back at single-figure odds.
Featherweights are always interesting in handicaps but they present a problem; do we believe they are rated lower because they are inconsistent or do we believe they have such scope for improvement that they have to be backed.
In the shape of Potterman we have a lightweight who is consistent and while he may yet dig out more progression in his form, he also seems handicapped just about fairly enough and so is considered to be more of a place hope at good odds.
In Secret Investor, Paul Nicholls has a chaser who could yet go to the very top this season. Rated 162 after landing a good handicap chase at Chepstow in fine style from Potterman, he is peaking now and at eight years old may not be finished yet.
He has a great profile for this event, but so often when horses go up so much in the handicap it takes more than one run for them to cope with it and so in this company he is just about passed over.
Kim Bailey’s runner is saddled with a massive weight here, but let’s not forget that this is an improving seven-year-old who was sent off favourite to beat Cyrname in the Charlie Hall Chase last time out.
He was beaten there, but by a very good horse and he still ran to the sort of level we’d expect. Ultimately however while he may yet make his mark in Grade One races, it’s going to prove hard for him to do it in handicaps such as this off a mark of 161.
Plenty of these are grouped closely, which is entirely correct in a competitive handicap, but a couple do stand out for us.
Paul Nicholls’ Secret Investor has plenty in his favour despite a big weight and can go well, but ultimately the best handicapped horse in the race is sure to prove to be COPPERHEAD and he is backed to win first time out this season.