First run as the Wetherby Pattern Chase in 1969, it assumed it’s present title in 1990 and the roll of honour features some marvellous steeplechasers, including four Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, Davy Lad, Burrough Hill Lad, Forgive’n Forget, and See More Business. Ten pound penalties have to be carried by winners of a Class1 weight for age chase after 30th September 2014, and in the last eight renewals only last years winner, Menorah, has managed to win carrying this maximum impost. This always competitive race is run at a very strong pace putting emphasis on stamina as well as speed, underlined by the fact that nine of the last ten winners had winning form over at least three miles. Probably due to the less demanding nature of the Wetherby fences in recent years, less experienced animals have been making their mark and two six year olds have won two of the last three runnings. Plenty have won this on their seasonal debut so lack of a previous outing is no bar to success. Paul Nicholls has hit the back of the net on three occasions and both Pipe (Our Vic 2006) and Hobbs (Menorah 2014) have both won once.
The ten year old Menorah would be a very popular winner if he could repeat last years success, and judged on the way he beat Al Ferof at the end of April in his last race, his chances of doing so are by no means remote. However it is eleven years since a horse older than nine has won and as he is again burdened with the maximum penalty he may find Saturday’s test just beyond him.
Aintree hero, Many Clouds who has won first time out for the last two seasons, and only an eight year old, may well have many more big days ahead of him so has to be considered. Having won at Cheltenham in January, serious Gold Cup hopes were entertained only to be dashed by a lacklustre display on the big day. Never able to keep up with the murderous pace set by Coneygree he did stay on to finish sixth, but covered himself in glory four weeks later, when winning the Grand National by 1 3/4L from St Are. He seems to be an out and out stayer and burdened with the maximum penalty, Saturday’s contest is unlikely to play to his strengths.
David Pipe’s Dynaste ran some great races in defeat last term, not least when finishing second in the King George VI chase to Silviniaco Conti, with Al Ferof five lengths back in third, and Cue Card another three and a half lengths further behind in fifth. He also got to within 1 1/2L of Many Clouds, whom he meets on 10lbs better terms at the weekend, at Cheltenham at the end of January. The rest of his season was curtailed by injury and by all accounts he was disappointing on his reappearance in a Grade3 hurdle at Auteuil on very soft ground three weeks ago. However he has come on for a run in the past, and following injury too much may not have been expected. Unpenalised on Saturday he is definitely on the short list.
As a 6yo second season chaser, the Rebecca Curtis trained Irish Cavalier is of interest. Having won the novices handicap chase off a mark of 137 at the Cheltenham festival he kept himself busy at the Punchestown equivalent, running twice within three days. Thrown in at the deep end he ran a fine race to finish fourth, beaten less than 4 1/2L by Valseur Lido in the Grade1 novices chase, and again ran well three days later finishing second to Blood Cotillion. Progress had clearly been maintained when comfortably disposing of Henryville on his reappearance at Newton Abbot on October 9th, earning him a new rating of 156. Further improvement is required to win at the weekend but in the hands of his very talented trainer this is more than possible.
Cue Card has had a frustrating time since his last win in November 2013. Between stress fractures and breathing problems he has been something of a hospital case, but connections are now hopeful that his problems are behind him, and indeed his last two runs behind Don Cossack in the Spring were more promising. Colin Tizzard reports him to be putting in some sterling work at home, and racing unpenalised it would be no surprise to see him add to his already amazing winnings of nearly three quarters of a million pounds.
Having won the race three times Paul Nicholl’s Sam winner is worth a second look as he does seem to run his best races in the first half of the season, and he did win first time out last year. He is saddled with a 10lb penalty for his win at Aintree last December, but coming from this yard it would be no surprise to see him defy it and is another well worth considering.
E.W. : Sam Winner