This high class Handicap was first run in 1963 and two winners, Persian King (1968) and Make A Stand (1997) went on to victory in hurdling’s Blue Riband at the Cheltenham Festival the following month. Significantly, they are two of only three horses, (the third being the Martin Pipe trained Copeland in 2002) to have carried more than 11-6 to victory in the entire history of the contest. Weight continues to be a very significant factor, with twenty of the last thirty one winners, crossing the finishing line with less than 11stones on their back. However, with seventeen of this year’s contenders set to carry more than eleven stone, that particular stat may not be quite so significant this time round, but certainly, the seven contenders, set to carry more than 11-7 seem up against it. Nicky Henderson, with five previous winners is the most successful handler, and at the time of writing has five entries. However, with three of them carrying 11-9 or more, the two to concentrate on would seem to be, Kayf Grace 11-4, and Lough Derg Spirit 11-2 .
A lightly raced 8yo mare, Kayf Grace has won four of her eight races, two of her five Bumpers, including the Grade2 at the Aintree Festival in 2016, and two of her three Hurdle races. Last time, on her first venture into Handicap company, she readily won a Kempton Class3 off a mark of 132. Despite the form not working out, she has been raised to a stiff enough looking mark of 140 for Saturday, so perhaps Henderson’s best chance of bringing a sixth trophy home to Seven Barrows, lies with the two years younger, Lough Derg Spirit.
A winner of two of his five starts over timber, the son of Westerner has only had the one run this term but that was a more than credible effort, finishing second to the ill fated London Prize, to whom he was conceding 3lbs, in Wincanton’s Elite Hurdle last November. Only raised a pound he looks well treated and is worth considering.
With his superb record of three wins in the last ten renewals, anything Garry Moore fields has to be of interest, and his contender this year, knocknanuss has plenty to recommend him. Having won a Maiden Point To Point and a Bumper in Ireland, the 8yo joined the Moore yard two years ago. Taken along very steadily by his astute trainer, the lightly raced 8yo has won two of his four starts over timber, including last time, when winning quite impressively from Notre Ami off a mark of 124 at the end of December. The runner up hasn’t done much for the form in the meantime but Knocknanuss could only beat what was put in front of him and, although raised a severe looking 11lbs for Saturday, he still gets to race with 10-13 on his back and could give Garry a fourth success.
The Donald McCain trained 7yo Novice, Waterlord, (six of the last eight winners of The Betfair have been Novices) was a tad disappointing when only finishing fourth in The Rossington Main on very holding ground at Haydock three weeks ago, but had looked an animal going places in his two previous races. He beat a horse who had won last time out, by fifteen lengths at Haydock (2m Hvy Dec30 17) and a fortnight earlier, beat Linksman (Bangor Hvy) by eleven lengths, and that horse went on to win next time out by twenty six lengths. The son of Cape Cross was a triple bumper winner for previous handler, John Ferguson, all on good ground so doesn’t need heavy, and indeed will probably improve further for a return to a decent surface. Racing off a mark of 135, (five of the last six winning Novices won The Betfair, off a mark between 134 and 137 ) giving him a racing weight of 10-13, he looks well treated for this his handicap debut.
Peter Atkinson’s tough mare, Irish Roe, has won seven of her eleven starts under rules, four of them over hurdles, but she put in her best performance to date a fortnight ago, when she ran the 152 rated Maria’s Benefit to 3/4L in a Doncaster Grade2 Mares only Hurdle. The handicapper has raised her to 145 but she is able to race on Saturday off her old mark of 134, in this early closing event. The one concern would be her ability to reproduce that Doncaster performance, just two weeks later, but she has won back to back races a fortnight apart in the past.
The Alan King trained 7yo, William H Bonney, has only won three of his eleven starts over timber, none of them at Class1 level, but his top trainer remains optimistic, that one of these valuable handicaps can be landed by this son of Midnight Legend. He certainly looked the most likely winner of the Class1 Grade3 Greatwood Hurdle at the second last (Cheltenham Nov19), but faded after the final flight to finish sixth. He was disappointing three weeks later at Sandown but has had a nice nine weeks break, (Mr King feels he goes best fresh) and with 10-12 on his back could get involved.
Despite taking a strong hold for most of the contest, the Evan Williams trained Silver Streak put up an excellent effort for a 4yo to finish second in the Class1 Grade3 Ladbroke in December off a mark of 130. He had plenty of Saturday’s opponents behind him that day, and if settling better, must have a very solid chance off a mark only 3lbs higher. He will also have the benefit of the talented Michael Bastyan’s 5lbs claim giving him a lovely racing weight of 10-6.
Selection : Waterlord
E.W. : William H Bonney Silver Streak