First run in 1981, the first nine runnings saw an amazing four of the winners (Little Owl 1981, Bregawn (main picture) 1983, The Thinker 1987 and Jodami 1993) going on to victory in The same years Cheltenham Gold Cup, (the race was abandoned in 1984 1988 and 1991). However those were the days of the northern powerhouse in National Hunt Racing, when legends like Peter Easterby, Michael Dickinson, Arthur Stephenson and Peter Beaumont had the talent, and just as important, the ammunition, not only to compete with their powerful southern counterparts, but beat them at the highest level. Alas that golden age is long gone, and with the loss of prestige that Saturday’s contest has suffered over the years, it has become a race in which the older more experienced handicapper has come to dominate. With the exception of last year’s 4/1 winner, the 6yo Bristol De Mai (Oddsguru’s selection), no animal younger than eight has passed the post in front since Peter Easterby’s 7yo Scotton Banks in 1996, and indeed, with the exception of last year’s winner, the younger brigade are zero from thirteen in the last decade. Another very solid statistic has been the number of winners who had previous form over the track. Twelve of the last nineteen winners boasted winning form, either over fences or hurdles at the track, and indeed seven of the last ten winners had either won or been second at the venue.
One that certainly fits the trends is the Philip Hobbs trained 8yo Rock The Kasbah. A winner over hurdles on his only course appearance (2m3f soft November 2015) he made the ideal start to this year’s campaign winning a Class 2 Chepstow Handicap in October following a five and a half month break off a mark of 142. He was taken out of The Welsh National due to the very heavy ground, but it is also worth noting that the yard had been going through a very untypical, lean spell at the time. With the stable going much better now, and as he clearly goes well after a break, he could just be one of the freshest in the field, and doesn’t look too badly treated on a mark of 149.
The Stuart Coltherd trained 9yo, Captain Redbeard boasts a record of two wins and a second from his three course appearances. He won last time out, here at Haydock, (2m7fHeavy) four weeks ago by six lengths from Catamaran Du Seuil off a mark of 135 and has been raised a quite severe looking nine pounds, but in his favour he will be partnered by his usual rider, the five pounds claiming Sam Coltherd, who knows the horse so well.
The James Moffat trained 12yo, Highland lodge is well into the veteran stage but has only raced twenty four times under rules and showed last time out there was still plenty of life in the “old dog” yet. He put in a great round of jumping, finishing third of fifteen to Blaklion on heavy ground over the Grand National fences six weeks ago. He did finish 14L behind the winner but was still in contention at the last so off the same mark on ground that he will relish with a nice racing weight of 10-9 it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise to see him involved at the business end on Saturday.
Being only a 7yo and with no course experience you have to say that the stats do not speak in favour of the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Tintern Theatre (pictured above) but it is worth remembering that his brilliant trainer has already defied the age statistic twice, winning with the 6yo Bristol De Mai last year, and with the 7yo Earth Summit in 1995. Tintern Theatre has met with mixed fortunes in his five efforts over the larger obstacles to date, falling once, and unseating once, but his other three efforts were quite promising, particularly last time when winning a competitive heat at Kempton off a mark of 134 with some authority. He has only been raised 4lbs for Saturday giving him a nice racing weight of 10-9 so if he copes with the conditions, the prize could be going back to Naunton for a third time.
David Pipe won this in 2010 with the 12yo Our Vic and is represented at the weekend by the talented 9yo Vieux Lion Rouge. He is two from three over the course and the last time he appeared at the Merseyside venue he took the notable scalp of Blaklion, and races on Saturday off a mark only four pounds higher. He hasn’t set the world alight with his two runs this term but as a double Class1 and Graded winner who thrives in testing conditions, has to be worth a second look.
The Venetia Williams (pictured) trained 8yo, Yala Enki won a Class2 Kelso Handicap over 3m2f in bog like conditions off a mark of 146 and races on Saturday off a mere 1lb higher. His three subsequent appearances haven’t been exactly promising, but he hasn’t had his conditions so with testing going a certainty, this previous course winner may be in for another payday.
Selection : Yala Enki
E.W. : Vieux Lion Rouge