Last week’s selection, Broadway Buffalo gave us a great run for our money in that Haydock marathon which was run on dreadful ground in a time 73 seconds slower than standard. He looked the likely winner coming to the last but just couldn’t find the stamina reserves to challenge Bishop’ Road on Haydocks glue like run in. Kerry Lee’s hero must now have serious prospects of getting a run in the National and on soft ground is definitely one to keep in mind.
While only two winners of this Saturday’s Kempton contest, Rhyme n’ Reason (1988) and Rough Quest (1996), have gone on to victory in the Aintree showpiece it’s roll of honour bears witness to some great performances. The immortal Desert Orchid won it in the twilight of his career in 1990 as an 11yo, carrying an eye watering 12st3lbs, and the win of Martin pipe’s oh so promising, but ill fated 6yo, Gloria Victis in 2000 will live long in the memory. (Killed in the same years Gold Cup)
Previously known as the Racing Post Chase it is a contest in which the higher rated animal has been very much to the fore, with eleven winners since 2000 carrying at least 11st. Indeed four top weights have prevailed in the same period. Philip Hobbs with four victories has been the most successful handler, followed by Paul Nicholls who has won it twice. Course form has been especially significant with ten of the last seventeen winners boasting winning course form. Age hasn’t been of great significance with winners coming from all groups between six and twelve, although the 8yo’s have the best record. The race is invariably truly run so non stayers may as well stay at home.
Philip Hobbs’s Champagne West, sustained an injury in the 2015 running of the Scilly Isles chase which kept him off the track for eleven months. He put up an excellent performance on his reappearance at Cheltenham in December, where despite a mistake at the 7th, he stayed on well to finish second to Village Vic, who won next time out. He was travelling nicely, again at Cheltenham four weeks ago, when short of room at the 8th he blundered and was pulled up two fences later. He has never run at Kempton but has plenty of form going right handed and as Grade 1 aspirations at the festival are entertained his mark of 154 on Saturday looks reasonable.
Racing off 2lbs lower than his hurdles mark the Harry Fry trained 7yo novice chaser, Thomas Brown, looks interesting. He made his debut over the larger obstacles at Ascot (2m3f) last November, and going off the hot favourite he duly obliged. He forged clear after two out and eased down he won easily. He ran well again at the same venue (2m5f) four weeks later, finishing second to Le Mercuery, in a race that has worked out well. Stepped up to 3m four weeks ago for his third chase, he demonstrated an abundance of stamina, when despite some indifferent jumping, he stayed on stoutly to win by 10L. This contest has been won by novices in the past, so with Noel Fehilly doing the steering on Saturday it would come as no surprise to see their record added to by this upwardly mobile ” Fry” 7yo.
Last year’s winner Rocky Creek was sent off the 2/1 favourite for a Grade2 chase at Newbury two weeks ago but disappointed, finishing 4th. However it was his first run since being pulled up over the National fences ten weeks earlier, and the outing may well have been needed. He is only 4lbs higher than last year so it would come as no surprise, coming from this yard, to see a much improved horse at the weekend.
Nicholl’s other candidate, the 10yo Ruben Cotter is interesting. Lightly raced with only six starts over fences he obviously has had his problems, but was quite impressive in a 2 1/2m chase over the course last March on his first run for 16 months. Racing off a mark of 132 and starting at odds of 14/1 he stayed on well and won comfortably by 4L. He was sent off 8/1 co fav over the Aintree fences (2m5f) four weeks later and finished a respectable 5th. Stamina won’t be a problem as he has won over 3m2f, so after his 10 month break and racing off a mark of 140 he may just be ready to run a very big race.
Lucy Wadham‘s (pictured above) 8yo Le Reve has to go right handed to show his best and duly won at Sandown last time. Racing off a mark of 144 he travelled really well and finished with gusto to see off Pete The Feat and Unioniste. As the latter has won next time out Le Reve looks really well treated off 149 and is one for the short list.
Colin Tizzard’s 9yo Theatre Guide showed he has the requisite pace and stamina for this when finishing second, albeit at a distance of 12L to Smad Place in the Hennessy last November. He can also boast winning course form, in a 2 1/2m chase, so running off the same mark as in his fine Hennessy effort, he is worth considering.
Neil Mulholland’s 9yo The Druids Nephew had a day in the sun when winning at last years festival, and for a time, four weeks later, looked like another was on the cards. He was leading the National field into “Valentines” the second time around, where unfortunately he came a cropper. He has been disappointing in his two outings since, and is now 9lbs higher than Cheltenham and Aintree so despite having form over the course he is passed over.
Selection : Le Reve
E.W. : Ruben Cotter