The first handicap of the week is run over 3 miles 1 furlong of the old course with 23 runners going to post. 10 of the last 13 winners had run at Cheltenham earlier in the season with 9 of the last 11 wearing some form of headgear. Novices have a good record in the race having won 5 of the last 9 renewals. The race was won last year by novice Northern raider Corach Rambler trained by Lucinda Russell who’s back to defend his title.
4th in last season’s Ryanair Chase (beaten 28L). One of three Venetia Williams runners. Has a chance on his third beaten 9L by the fancied Into Overdrive at Wetherby on Boxing Day on 9lb better terms. Top weight today and will be ridden by 5lb conditional jockey Miss Lucy Turner. One of the better outsiders.
Kim Bailey’s 9-year-old was runner-up in this two years ago to Vintage Clouds off of a handicap mark 5lb lower. Came back from a long absence when 3rd in Rehearsal Chase won by the useful L’Homme Presse with Into Overdrive in 2nd. 8lb better off here for 3L and if we can forget his subsequent flop at Cheltenham over a shorter trip has definite each-way claims with David Bass riding.
Claims on his best form which include a 1/2L runner-up in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury last November and a comfortable win at Kempton around Christmas time. Flopped badly however back over hurdles at Sandown since. Somerset-based trainer David Pipe does well in this race and he will be ridden by David Noonan. The Grand National is the aim and has each-way claims on best form.
THE BIG BREAKAWAY
One of two Joe Tizzard-trained chasers in the field. Last seen when runner up in the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow for which he’s been raised 3lb for. Can make the occasional blunder and will be ridden today by Brendan Powell. A thorough stayer who won’t mind the conditions.
6th in last year’s Brown Advisory. 6th in Classic Chase at Warwick last time and down a pound. Trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by A Heskin for the McNeill Family. Probably better than we’ve seen this season and sports a first-time tongue-tie here today. Capable of running well.
Was runner-up, only beaten a short head in last season’s Coral Cup and has the feeling of one that has been laid out for this. Trained in Ireland by Martin Brassil he’s only had two starts over fences both in the top grade and off of a 6lb higher handicap mark than last year is one for the shortlist. Will be ridden by J J Slevin.
Gordon Elliott’s only representative comes into this in excellent form having won a grade A handicap chase at Leopardstown last month in his first handicap over 2m 5f. Yet to prove he truly stays this far and has to race off of an 11lb higher handicap mark. Davy Russell takes the reigns.
Fourth in this last year off of a 2lb lower mark. Not disgraced on his first two starts over fences this season and was outclassed when reverting to grade 2 company over hurdles last time out at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle. Stan Sheppard takes the ride for Tom Lacey.
Northern trainer Mark Walford has been amongst the winners in the last week and trains this 8-year-old who will be ridden by Jamie Hamilton. Has won five of his last six starts climbing some 35 lbs in the weights. Last seen winning the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day from the smart Gold Cup bound Sounds Russian (5lb higher now) He missed the Skybet Chase with a slight niggle but has been away for a gallop at Manton and holds excellent claims.
Cosy winner of this race last year and is back to have another go off of a 6lb higher handicap mark. Trainer Lucinda Russell is in red hot form at present winning with 10 of her last 26 runners and looks sure to go close with the only negative being that we haven’t seen the 9-year-old since a fine 4th in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury last November.
Winner of the 2021 Ladbroke Trophy (old Hennessey!) though hasn’t raced much since. Venetia Williiams’ 10-year-old made a pleasing re-appearance when third of fourteen to stablemate Quick Wave in the Betfred Grand National Trial at Haydock and with Charlie Deutsch riding is another lively outsider.
Gary Moore’s six-year-old has been popular in the ante-post market having run well here on New Year’s Day when 3rd to Midnight River over 2m 4 1/2F. An improver but that’s as far as he’s raced over so has the stamina to prove himself with trainer’s son Jamie Moore in the saddle.
Three wins from eight starts over fences all over 2m 4F and this represents a step up in trip for Fergal O’Brien’s eight-year-old. Stamina is a major issue for this Jack Hogan-ridden gelding.
TOP VILLE BEN
Ran well at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown in February when third to The Goffer beaten only 3L. 6lb better off here and looks overpriced on that run although is well held by Into Overdrive on his previous run. The oldest in the field and likely to find several too good for the Philip Kirby-trained runner. Thomas Dowson rides.
A seven-year-old improver trained by Jonjo O’Neil and ridden by his son Jonjo Junior. Has won three of his four starts over fences rising 18lb and with novices having a good record in the race and with conditions ideal can run well.
GOOD BOY BOBBY
Is looking well handicapped now having shown little in three starts this season and is currently rated 6lb lower than his last win which came in the 2021 Rowland Meyrick. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 10-year-old is getting on a bit though and with Daryl Jacob riding for his bosses Simon Munir and Isaac Souede is likely to find a few too good for him today.
Ran a highly credible third in this last year to Corach Rambler and returns on 5lb better terms for 3L. Joe Tizzard’s eight-year-old was last seen winning a sub-standard renewal of the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot and a case can be made for him with Harry Cobden an eye-catching jockey booking.
First run for David Pipe having transferred from David Cottin in France. 3 wins from 17 starts in his native country but impossible to assess properly although is most likely best watched under Jack Tudor riding for Professor Caroline Tisdall.
Third of Venetia Williams’ runners who will be ridden by Shane Quinlan who still claims 3lb. Won first time out back in November at Ludlow and is now 7lb higher following three runs since including when flopping at Ascot last time under Lucy Turner. Hard to fancy on that effort.
A lightly raced seven-year-old trained locally by Ben Pauling. A winner at Bangor in November but ran poorly here on New Year’s Day in a novice chase won by The Real Whacker. Has yet to race beyond 2m 4F and stamina has to be a doubt with Tom Cannon in the saddle.
The second of Nigel Twiston-Davie’s runners. First-time cheek pieces and a tongue tie are employed here for this eight-year-old who ran 7th when only an 8/1 chance beaten some 13L in this race last year. He’s rated 12lb lower now so has a healthy 18lb pull for that beating with the winner Corach Rambler. Very well handicapped now and with Sam Twiston-Davies in the plate can outrun his odds.
Olly Murphy trains this out-and-out stayer who’s hard to win with. He’s been dropped 8lb for his efforts this season and is getting to a very winnable handicap mark but it’s hard to fancy him much here today.
Irish raider whose best run this season was when chasing home The Goffer in the Bulmers Leopardstown Chase last month. Out of his depth when unseating in the Bobbyjo Chase since he has a squeak although it’s been a while since Paul Gilligan’s 10-year-old troubled the judge.
A cracking renewal of the Ultima with several holding good chances. Last year’s winner Corach Rambler won well and despite a 6lb higher mark can go well for the in-form Lucinda Russell stable. Back in 7th that day was Fantastikas who’s now 18lb better off for a 13L beating which can pull the two closer together, especially with the latter sporting first-time cheek pieces and a tongue tie.
Into Overdrive is my idea of the likeliest winner, however. He represents some of the best-staying handicap chase form around and can go close. Happygolucky has run well in this race before and is another with decent each-way claims. Irish raider Fasterslow ran very well at the meeting over hurdles last year and has kept the best company over fences in two starts this season. He’s a very interesting contender.
1 Into Overdrive @ 10/1 with Bet365
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All odds are correct at the time of writing.