Peter Marsh Chase Haydock Odds

Last week’s E.W. Selection, Midnight Prayer gave us a great run for our money and must surely have collected but for making that “howler” at the third last in such testing conditions. However it was only his second outing of the campaign and with further improvement certain, he is one to keep in mind for the big one at Aintree inApril. Saturday’s Peter Marsh Chase is going to be run on similar attritional ground so once again stamina is going to be of paramount importance.

First run in 1981 it certainly attracted some high class animals in its early years, with no less than four Cheltenham Gold Cup winners featuring on the roll of honour in its first ten renewals. It can safely be said that none of Saturday’s contestants will be troubling the Prestbury Park judges in the big one on March 18th, but nevertheless plenty of decent animals have won this in recent years, with seven of the last ten winners racing off a mark of 140 or higher. Indeed Cloudy Lane collected in 2006 off a mark of 155, carrying 11st10lbs, demonstrating that weight has been no bar to success. Course form has been a most significant factor, with ten of the last seventeen winners boasting a previous course win. It hasn’t been a race for the younger brigade as we have to go back to 1996 to find a winner younger than eight, (Scotton Banks). The McCain yard, with two wins, has the best recent record, but Sue Smiths achievement of saddling a winner and five placed horses from nine runners in the last nine renewals is certainly worth noting, and makes her 10yo, Cloudy Two of considerable interest.

Unsuccessful since winning a Wetherby Grade3 handicap off a mark of 148 over two years ago Cloudy Too has been disappointing since, but showed signs of a revival over the course six weeks ago. He was in the process of running a decent race, travelling nicely in second behind the eventual winner Seventh Sky, when blundering badly at the fourth last. To his credit he kept on for third place 13L behind the winner. But for the mistake he would certainly have finished a lot closer and meets the winner on 10lbs better terms so this previous course winner is certainly worth considering.

It is amazing to see the six times Grade1 hurdles winner, Reve de Sivola, who has been rated as high as 167 at his peak, racing off a mark of 139 in this different discipline, and if he puts in a performance within a stone of his best over the smaller obstacles, Saturday’s opponents might as well stay in their stables. However his ten attempts over fences to date, have yielded a score of zero, although he has put up some decent performances, getting placed in Festival handicaps at Cheltenham and Aintree and coming fourth in a Grade1 chase at Punchestown. He won’t be inconvenienced by Saturday’s heavy ground, and indeed the more pedestrian pace and easy fences may well help his fencing technique, and spark a revival in the old warriors chasing career.

Despite being only seven, the Paul Nicholl’s trained Virak has had plenty of chasing experience. He has contested ten chases, winning four of them and being placed in five of the other six, so perhaps his age shouldn’t be viewed as too much of a negative. In his last race, six weeks ago at Ascot, racing off a mark of 158, he looked a tad unlucky. He tried to challenge between the the two horses in front of him before the last, but failing to get through he had to switch right. Despite loss of momentum he stayed on strongly and was only beaten a length, with the third horse, Saturday’s opponent, Fingal Bay, 3/4L back in third. Hopefully he will be ridden again by Nicholl’s fine young claimer, Harry Cobden taking offa useful 7lbs giving him a racing weight of 11st3lbs. He handles the ground and is a previous course winner, so clearly has plenty going for him.

Considering it was only his third attempt over fences, Jonjo O’Neills Spookydooky put up a decent enough performance when finishing second to another of Saturday’s opponents, Seventh Sky, over the course six weeks ago, when racing offa mark of 142. Further progress can be expected from this animal whose pedigree is all about stamina, and meeting Seventh Sky on 9 lbs better terms, things should be much closer at the weekend. A slight reservation would be the poor current form of the Jackdaw’s Castle operation who are struggling for winners.

Selection : Virak.

E.W. : Cloudy too.

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Betfred Classic Chase 3m5f Warwick

First run under its present title in 2004, it superseded The Warwick National, which had its denouement in 2000. When run as ” The National ” lower weights were the order of the day, with quite a few winners coming from out of the handicap, but since it’s reinvention as ” The Classic ” a higher rated animal has been in the ascendency, with four of the last seven renewals being won by horses carrying 11st or more. Indeed Hey Big Spender won with the impost of 11st12lbs four years ago off a mark of 156. Inexperience hasn’t been a bar to success with two seven year olds, boasting only thirteen outings over the larger obstacles between them, coming home in front. (Baron Windrush 2007 and Shotgun Paddy 2014). Good recent form has proved important with seven of the last ten winners achieving a first three placing last time out. Paul Nicholls has an outstanding record with three winners from five runners, and Alan King hasn’t done so badly either, boasting two wins and a place from his seven entries over the past decade. Both Colin Tizzard and Venetia Williams have also hit the back of the net, but the Irish, who have six entries at the time of writing, have drawn a blank.

The Nicholls camp fields two competitors in this years renewal, and both are of interest. The 9yo Black Thunder was not unfancied for last weeks Welsh National, (he went off at 12/1 in the twenty runner field) but having been hampered at the 8th fence, he made a mistake at the 12th and unseated at the 13th. Every cloud has a silver lining however, and in this case the Nicholls contender was certainly saved a hard race, and when we note that two previous winners of Saturday’s contest had failed to complete in the Chepstow marathon, the performance need not be considered in a totally negative light. He races off a 3lb lower mark at the weekend so is worth considering.

The second Ditcheat contender, the 7yo Vivaldi Collonges, was having only his fourth outing over fences when trotting up in the Kelso mud (2m7 1/2f) at the beginning of December off a mark of 134. He has been raised 8lbs to a new mark of 142, but this animals pedigree is all about stamina and is highly likely to improve for Saturday’s step up in trip. It will be surprising to this observer if he doesn’t end the campaign on a considerably higher mark, and is short listed.

The Alan King trained Sego Success, got his act together when making all over 3miles at Doncaster off a mark of 139 five weeks ago. Sporting cheek pieces he led from the start and jumping for fun, he flew the last and stayed of strongly to win easily in a good time for the conditions. A winner of the novices chase on this card last year the tricky five fences down Warwick’s back straight should hold no fears so despite a 7lbs rise his chances are respected.

The Barbury Castle second string, Midnight Prayer is a very lightly raced 11yo who has had only sixteen career starts. He is three from seven over the larger obstacles, and showed what a classy animal he is when winning the 4miles National Hunt Chase at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival from Shotgun Paddy. Having his first run for a year he performed with credit when finishing fourth in a Newbury handicap seven weeks ago. He didn’t make it to the start for the welsh National because of a “coughing scare” but is now reported fit and off a mark of 135 giving him a nice racing weight of 10st7lbs this previous course winner looks well treated.

A winner of a Grade2 3m hurdle, giving him a rating of 148 over the smaller obstacles, Gordon Elliot’s Mala Beach should be much more at home over Saturday’s trip than the 2m5f chase he contested on his last visit to these shores, at Ascot before Christmas. Having clouted the first he didn’t have the necessary speed to trouble the winner but did finish second beaten 11L. That was only his fifth race over fences and apart from the initial blunder his jumping was fine, so in the hands of his superb trainer, it would come as no surprise to see this well treated horse (6lbs lower than his hurdle rating) run a big race at the weekend.

Selection: Vivaldi Collonges.

E.W. : Midnight Prayer. If absent Mala Beach.

Lanzarote Hurdle 2m5f Kempton Saturday

Named after the great Fred Winter’s Champion Hurdle winner, and Kempton specialist, Lanzarote, who was a two times winner of the track’s premier hurdle race, “The Christmas”. He finished his hurdling career with a remarkable twenty wins from thirty three starts. He went on to become a top class chaser and was strongly fancied to win the 1977 Gold Cup and become the first horse to complete the Champion Hurdle, and Cheltenham’s premier race double. It wasn’t to be alas, as he was fatally injured in the race and we had to wait another nine years for the mare, Dawn Run to bring off that elusive double. The “Lanzarote” was run over 2m from its inception in 1978 until 2007 when the distance was extended to 2m5f, since when, some quite strong trends have emerged. The eight renewals we have had since 2007 have only been won on two occasions by animals with form at the distance, the other six have been bagged by animals improving for the step up in trip. Weight has been a significant factor and again only two have defied a burden of 11st or more. Age has been extremely relevant with youth having the best of the argument, particularly six year olds, who have collected on five occasions. Inexperience has been no bar to success with three of the last four winners having had only three previous runs over timber. The last eight renewals have also been quite punter friendly, with 9/1 being the longest S.P. returned, (Verasi 2007). So what of this years contest?

Paul Nicholls has won the race twice since 2007, and is represented this year by the 5yo Ibis Du Rheu, whose half brother Saphir Du Rheu, also in the care of the master of Ditcheat, won this two years ago. This lightly raced horse will be having only his sixth hurdle race, and only his third since joining the Nicholl’s Academy. A winner of a valuable 3yo hurdle at Enghien in 2014 he was campaigned at around 2m on his first two races in this country, but it wasn’t until stepping up in trip last time that he really showed his true potential. On soft ground at Newbury over 2m3f at the end of November, having been held up, he stayed on really well, gradually closing, but unable to quite get past the winner, Royal Guardsman. He did however have that good yardstick, Ma Filleule, 2 1/2L back in third. Bound to be well suited by Saturday’s extra two furlongs, he races off a generous looking mark of 135, giving him a nice racing weight of 10st8lbs, (his half brother won with 11st7lbs) and must be one for the shortlist.

Nicky Henderson’s 5yo Bivouac is another who seemed to be well suited by the step up in trip last time, when comfortably accounting for Ruacana and Lil Rockerfeller at Huntingdon over 2m 3 1/2f on soft ground nine weeks ago of a mark of 134. As Lil Rockerfeller won a Class1 handicap at Sandown next time out off a 2lbs higher mark the form looks rock solid, making the Henderson horse look reasonably treated off a mark of 141. Already a course winner, Bivouac is three from four going right handed and does seem to have plenty in his favour at the weekend.l

Harry Fry runs the 8yo, Unowhatimeanharry, who, having won his last three races heads the market. He looked a real staying type last time over three miles at Cheltenham (soft) where taking it up at the second last, he stayed on stoutly, and was driven right out to win by 1 1/2L and 9L from Final Nudge and West Approach. His terrific trainer has obviously found the secret to this horse and my only concern would be his ability to handle Kemptons sharp right handed track. All eight previous winners had a clockwise win on their C.V. but the Fry animal, despite five attempts going right handed has failed to hit the back of the net.

Irish trainer Alan Fleming who is having such a good season at home, sends over his 6yo Blue Hell, and he looked a serious tool when winning a highly competitive (115-133) handicap at right handed Fairyhouse seven weeks ago of a mark of 124. He was always travelling well on the soft/heavy ground, took it up before the last and won comfortably by three lengths from the favourite Diamond King. He has been raised an eye watering 17lbs, and the Fairyhouse race was over two miles, so there have to be doubts. However he did win twice in the French Provinces as a three year old over hurdles, and his dam is by Fairy King, giving plenty of encouragement that the step up in trip won’t be a problem. He did impress at Fairyhouse so is one to keep on the right side of.

Selection : Ibis Du Rheu.

E.W. : Bivouac.