Sky Bet Handicap Chase 3m Doncaster Saturday – last week’s selection Bristol De Mai, hopefully left followers of Oddsguru in a happy frame of mind. In what looked a particularly strong Peter Marsh Chase, he turned the race into a procession, winning by 22L, with his head in his chest, at odds of 4/1. Jumping superbly from flag fall, he never touched a twig on the way round, and the ease of his victory made a mockery of his mark of 154. A Dual Grade1 winner, this brilliant 6yo, who may still have further improvement to come, comprehensively proved on Saturday that stamina is his strong suit, and as he demonstrated last March, when finishing second to Black Hercules at the Cheltenham Festival, that Prestbury Park holds no fears, he must now be considered a serious threat to all if going for this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Although this Saturday’s Sky Bet Chase, in it’s previous incarnation, as the The Great Yorkshire Chase, does boast, in its dim and distant past, two future Cheltenham Gold Cup winners, Knock Hard in 1953, and Bregawn in 1982, it’s pretty unlikely that Saturday’s contest is harbouring another. Nevertheless it looks a highly competitive heat and no doubt will take a good animal to collect. It has been a good race for Novices with seven of them in the last twenty runnings coming home in front. Doncaster is a course where top handicaps tend to get competitive a long way from home so strong stamina credentials are important and a glance down the roll of honour of the race, reveals three Grand National Winners, Freebooter, E.S.B. and Nicolas Silver.
Paul Nicholls has won two of the past ten renewals of the “Sky Bet” and of his three entries, the 8yo Vicente looks the most interesting. The winner of last year’s Scottish National, off a mark of 146, he races on Saturday off a mark only 3lbs higher, and with the forecast looking reasonable for the weekend, may get the decent ground he prefers. His super shrewd trainer may well have his eye on the Grand National weights, and a few pounds rise in his charges burden would not come amiss, to guarantee a place in the line up for the big one in April. Worth considering!
Rebecca Curtis has two entered at the time of writing and her 8yo Novice, Bigbadjohn catches the eye. A decent hurdler, rated 136, he has only had the three runs over fences, and showed plenty of promise on the first of them, finishing third in a Uttoxeter Class3. He took a big step forward a month later at Newbury winning by 6L from subsequent winner Our Kaempfer, and last time ran another fine race when finishing second, 8L behind Gold Cup favourite, Thistlecrack, with the useful, Ibis Du Rheu, who was receiving 7lbs a further 6L back in third. He gets into Saturday’s contest on a mark of 136, giving him a nice racing weight of 10st10lbs and looks well treated. Considering the good record of Novices in the race, this son of Vinnie Roe, a strong influence for stamina, is definitely one to be interested in.
Last year’s winner the Alan King Trained 8yo, Ziga Boy, already a veteran of 21 chases is only 4lbs higher this time. Having his second race of the season and running off Saturday’s mark of 137 he unseated at the first over the National fences at Aintree in December, but showed there were no ill effects a week later, when running a solid race over Saturday’s course and distance, to finish third behind No Duffer and another of the weekend opponents, Long Lunch. He was 5L behind Long Lunch that day and now meets him on 5lbs better terms. It could be close between them but I fancy Alan Kings charge, who is becoming something of a course specialist, (2wins 1place from 3 course appearances) to come out on top this time.
The Warren Greatrex trained 8yo, Out Sam won the first two of his seven starts over fences, but for the next four, the wheels seemed to be missing. However he looked back on track last time when putting in a very solid round over Kemptons tricky circuit. Despite jumping left he finished a respectable third, 3 1/2L and 1L behind Double Shuffle and Saturday’s opponent, Go Conquer. A pound better off with the latter, and bound to be much better suited by flat, left handed Doncaster he is certainly worth a second look on his attractive mark of 136, only 1lb higher than the 135 he earned over the smaller obstacles.
The Neil Mulholland trained 7yo, Southfield Royale, showed that he can go well after a break when running a great race to finish 4th in last years National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, following a three month lay off. Indeed he may well have made Minella Rocco and Native River really pull out all the stops that day, but for making a howler at the second last. He is a winner at Grade2 level over the course and distance here at Doncaster, and his very talented trainer is in great form so could be very interesting on this his first run for 277 days, particularly if the heavens open.
Selection: Bigbadjohn (if abs Out Sam)
E.W. : Vicente