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.