Despite its flat topography, Haydock Park really does take some getting when the rain gets into it and so this three-mile handicap is going to be one tough slog.
Add to that the fact that some of main contenders here haven’t run too many times over hurdles and fewer still have stayed the three miles elsewhere and we have our work cut out to find a guaranteed stayer.
Nevertheless, here’s our shortlist of six:
Clearly overpriced in the ante post market, Philip Hobbs’ six-year-old has plenty going for him and it’ll be a surprise if the money doesn’t come in for him eventually.
Having been improving nicely throughout last season, he reached a peak when winning at Wincanton and Ludlow over the full three miles, the latter occasion on soft ground, either side of an excellent fourth at Newbury in the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle.
He ran two more solid seconds at Newbury including last time out in a pipe-opener for this season, but that appears to have led to the general opinion that his improvement has stopped. They were on good ground however and it appears he wants the conditions he’ll get here, while there is every chance that he can improve further anyway.
Amy Murphy’s stable star and Grade 1-winning novice chaser is taking his first spin over hurdles since March 2019 when he was second in the Supreme at the Festival, but he is not to be counted out of this.
Although chasing really is his game these days, he can still run every bit as well as he did back in the old days, if not better, with a lot coming down to whether his recent breathing operation will have benefitted him or whether the long break and the return to hurdles is a negative.
David Pipe’s seven-year-old is a winner of 7 of his 13 hurdle races, including all of his last five, and 11 of 27 outings overall in his career.
He has tons of racecourse experience then, but he has been improving hand over fist and there is no way of knowing for sure when the handicapper will get to him.
His last hurdle start, in a valuable race at Uttoxeter in March, turned into a rout as he easily went 15 lengths clear of his field, and on a line through some of his opposition that day his form looks solid and he could be very well in indeed.
As if to accentuate the point and to prove his fitness and wellbeing, he had three spins on the flat in the autumn, winning all three of those including on soft ground seeing out the quick two miles no problem.
We’d suggest he is still well handicapped, that the three miles won’t be a problem and that ground is his game so there is simply nothing we don’t like.
Hughie Morrison’s Third Wind is 4 from 7 and coming along nicely and has been better on rain-softened ground, meaning his fifth on his seasonal return on good going at Newbury can be upgraded.
He clearly stays well, as his fourth in the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham highlights, however he has taken his chance in a few tough races without winning which tends to suggest that the handicapper knows his limit.
West To The Bridge
As a last time out winner for the Dan Skelton yard you’d expect this horse to be higher up in the market, but he has been overlooked by some.
A winner at Carlisle on heavy ground, he stays well enough and will handle conditions but has generally been doing well against opposition far inferior to what he faces here.
Who Dares Wins
Easily the most experienced horse on our shortlist, Alan King’s runner has had 46 public outings, winning 11. He’s been highly tried on the flat this year and hasn’t seen a hurdle on a racecourse since 2018 but is certainly not out of contention.
Four of the horses on this list are very difficult to separate when all the variables are considered, but there are two who interesting profiles who stand out.
Dolphin Square is one of them and it is easy to picture him easing into contention when it matters, but the credentials of MAIN FACT are too good to ignore and so given that 5/1 and bigger is available at the time of writing, he is not considered too short to back even in a race of this nature.