Wednesday 17th March:
CORAL CUP HANDICAP HURDLE: (2m5f)
This is typically an impossible puzzle to solve with 26-runners in the field. Grand Roi heads the market and showed nice form for Nicky Henderson last season winning three of his four stars with his only defeat coming at this course in a bumper on New Year’s Day 2020, when fourth beaten three-quarters-of-a-length. His form since switching yards over to Ireland has improved on each outing, third on debut and has since won a Grade 2 and placed second in a Grade 3 not beaten far behind a good yardstick in Bachasson. This mark of 149 is fair and he carries his fair share of weight but he’s unproven at this sort of trip which raises a few question marks for me.
Koshari has been mixing between hurdling and chasing in recent times and had a long lay-off to deal with before returning with a win off a 9lb lower mark before finishing sixth the last day off this mark in a big-field when making a couple of mistakes over a longer trip. He’s a lightly-raced nine-year old but not my idea of the winner. Botox Has brings some nice course form to the table having won twice here in his juvenile campaign as well as finishing a close second behind Allmankind which is very strong form now. He was sixth the last day behind Craigneiche and takes a further step up in distance which isn’t sure to suit though he has dropped a couple of pounds in the ratings and the better ground will benefit him.
Shakem Up’Arry was a good second behind Metier in the Tolworth at Sandown when outpaced late on and shaped as though this kind of trip may well suit, which it should being a son of Flemensfirth out of Presenting. He was eight in the Betfair Hurdle the last day having made late progress though only dropping a pound might not be enough for win purposes for Ben Pauling. The other who really caught the eye in that race was the fast-finishing Guard Your Dreams for Nigel Twiston-Davies. He came from out the clouds to finish sixth over that 2m trip so this step up in trip looks the right move but with him not proven as a stayer he can’t be certain to completely see this race out, but can’t be dismissed off the same mark of 135 as the last day.
Nicky Henderson has won the last two renewals of this and has four in here, a couple of those with lively chances and it’s one of his who I fancy to go close here, CRAIGNEICHE. He won a Grade 3 handicap the last day by seven-lengths over 2m3f at Ascot with some of these comfortably held in behind and there was no sign of him stopping through the line. He’s up 12lb since that win but there should be more to come over this sort of trip being a son of Flemensfirth and Tom Cannon, who was on board the last day at Ascot, keeps the ride. He’d previously won over this trip in a Doncaster maiden despite the vet reporting that he bled from the nose and prior to that finished a fair third behind The Big Breakaway in a Newbury novice under a hands and heels ride, so with the drying ground and further progression over this trip likely I’m pinning my colours to this very unexposed seven-year-old.
Another who went up 12lb for a recent win is stablemate Monte Cristo, who also won the last day by seven-lengths upped to this trip for the first time and he remains very unexposed on just his fifth start in the UK. He wasn’t beaten far in a Grade 2 here in January last year when going off an odds-on favourite and despite his best form coming on soft ground I think he’d appreciate a sounder surface like most of Nicky’s horses do so should run his race but it’s his stablemate who I’m backing here.
CRAIGNEICHE (10/1) – Bet365 – 0.5pt ew (6 places) – 2nd (+1.5)
- Monte Cristo
- Shakem Up’Arry
GRAND ANNUAL HANDICAP CHASE: (2m)
Another handicap in which those at the head of the weights struggle to win this. Former Arkle winner Duc De Genievres carries top-weight here on his handicap debut off a mark of 158. He’s switched yards from Willie Mullins to Paul Nicholls for this season and made a pleasing debut over C&D when beaten just over a length behind Put The Kettle On in the Shloer Chase before finishing third in the Desert Orchid with Nube Negra and Altior in front. He was outclassed in the Grade 1 Clarence House at Ascot the last day but he could be interesting at a nice each-way price if showing his best form here. Last year’s winner Chosen Mate will have to improve to win this again from an 8lb higher mark, his form coming into this is a bit hit and miss and though this would have been the target again I can’t see him winning.
Embittered ran a good third in the County Hurdle last year off a 3lb lower mark and since chasing this season he began with a pair of seconds against a couple of talented horses before taking on Grade 1 horses the last twice with the most recent coming in the Irish Arkle behind Energumene when fourth. He’ll appreciate this return to handicap company and this mark is certainly a winnable one off a nice weight here. Another who is on a tempting mark is Joseph O’Brien’s Entoucas who has been consistent this season with three seconds and a couple of fourths, but no wins yet this term which may be a slight concern. The last day was possibly his best effort to date when beaten just over six-lengths in the Grade B Matheson Handicap Chase and the form of that race was boosted when both the third and fifth have won since. He’s only up a pound, will handle the conditions and looks to hold solid claims.
Sky Pirate has been resurgent since dropping back to the minimum trip having always travelled like the winner over further before not quite seeing out his races. He won hard on the bridle on the new course back in December when Ibleo was hard at it back in second and that form should be confirmed on one pound worse terms. He’s since doubled up at Warwick before finding the Kingmaker and Allmankind a step too far, he’s another back in a handicap but may be slightly high in the ratings now for win purposes though should still run his race. Amoola Gold was second to Sky Pirate at Warwick and is better off at the weights re-opposing here and his neck second behind First Flow at Ascot in November is very strong form with that horse a lively outsider in the Champion Chase. He’s 8lb higher now and comes from the in-form Dan Skelton yard though he would probably need to improve slightly further to be getting his head in front.
My selection is the Phillip Hobbs-trained ZANZA who has some nice pieces of form in the book from the early part of the season. His second behind Allmankind at Warwick was a sound run having been ridden cold throughout he made late headway and he improved well to win impressively at Newbury next time out by five-and-a-half-lengths. He was last seen cruising into the race in which Sky Pirate won here back in December when falling three out having joined the leader and from an unchanged mark and a break I think he’s of real interest with a clear round, I’d be disappointed if he doesn’t fill the places at the very least with improvement still likely being only a seven-year-old and still fairly unexposed over fences.
ZANZA (7/1) – Bet365 – 1pt win – Lost (-1)
- Duc De Genievres
March P/L: -7.95pts
Overall P/L (Sept ’17-present): +568.2pts