Smarkets Challenger Staying Chase Series Final (Handicap) 3m1 1/2f Haydock Saturday

The main focus of attention for jumping enthusiasts this Saturday is Haydock Park, where the betting exchange company, Smarkets, host their finals day. They generously sponsor all seven races on a fascinating card but the heat that catches the eye is the final of the Smarkets Challenger Staying Chase Series.

When one considers the historically high strike rate of the Pond House Operation, one has to conclude that so far, it has been quite a disappointing season for David Pipe and his staff, but with two winners in the past fortnight, including that convincing victory of Rathlin Rose at Ascot, the corner may have been turned. If it does prove to be the case, the master of Pond House must have a serious chance of landing the valuable Challenger Staying Chase Final with his lightly weighted 8yo, Abracadabra Sivola. A veteran of 25 chases, he drew a blank in his seven starts since landing a Taunton Class3 Handicap last March off a mark of 129. However, dropped to a mark of 112 he showed that he was no back number when winning over Kempton’s tricky circuit 14 days ago. He made all, travelling well within himself, and put the result beyond doubt with his best jump of the round at the last. A course winner at Haydock over hurdles, his new mark of 117, gives him the featherweight of only 10-1 to shoulder, and he looks seriously well treated.

The Charlie Longsdon trained, Shanroe In Milan didn’t manage to catch the Judges eye in his two PTP’s or his seven races over hurdles but did get off the mark last time out in his third attempt over the larger obstacles. Racing off a mark of 117 in a Class4 Doncaster Handicap (3m Soft) he held on gamely to beat Bako De La Saulaie by 1/2L nine weeks ago. There is nothing special about the form but the Longsdon 6yo was always bred to be a chaser and having broken his duck could move on to greener pastures.

The Lucy Wadham trained Potters Legend looked a tad unlucky when coming down at the last at Fakenham 15 days ago. Having delivered a sustained challenge from two out, he had just taken it up when falling in the Class3 event, and off just a 2lbs higher mark, with the yard amongst the winners, the 8yo is certainly worth a second look.

After six attempts over fences, the one time winner over hurdles, Behind Time, got his head in front over the larger obstacles for the first time two weeks ago. The Harry Fry trained 7yo came home 4L clear of the useful Big River in a Class2 Uttoxeter Handicap (3mChase Heavy) off a mark of 120. He had been prone to making the odd mistake in his previous races and the fitting of cheek pieces may have helped. If they work the Oracle again, he doesn’t look badly treated on a mark of 127, giving him a racing weight of 10-13.

The Fergal O’Brien trained 10yo, Jenny’s Surprise is a pretty consistent mare who has won six times and been placed six times from her nineteen starts under National Hunt Rules. She battled on bravely to land a Class3 Ffos Las Handicap (3m Heavy) six weeks ago where she had Behind Time, 3L and a neck back in third. She meets Harry Fry’s charge on the same terms at the weekend so connections must be hopeful of landing this very nice pot.

The Nick William’s trained 10yo, Horatio Hornblower, a winner of three of his previous eighteen starts over fences, just failed to make it four, when going down by a neck to the redoubtable 14yo, Pete The Feat, in a Sandown Class3 (3m Soft) three weeks ago. With form over The Lancashire Track, (2nd brush Hurdle April 2014) and racing off his Sandown mark he could be interesting.

Wicked Willy is another contender with course form, (placed in both of his track appearances under NH rules). He put up a solid performance last time when finishing 4th in a Class2 Sandown Handicap (3m Soft) eight weeks ago. He was 6 3/4L behind the winner, the useful Ballydine, but would have been closer had he not made a costly mistake at the second last. 3rd in the Staying Hurdle Final of this series last April, he will enjoy Saturday’s likely better ground, and off the same mark as Sandown he looks to have a serious chance in what will only be his 6th race over fences.

The Sue Smith trained Delusionofgrandeur’s only course appearance was pretty inauspicious, finishing 4th of five runners, 30L behind the winner, politologue, in November 2016. However he has developed into a decent chaser winning four of his twelve starts. He may have found the 4m1f trip at Musselburgh last time beyond him, but prior to that was an excellent 3rd, only 1/2L behind the winner, Get On The Yeager, in a Class1 Grade3 Chase in December. As the class act in the field he has plenty of weight, (11-10), but will benefit from any drying of the ground, and coming from this yard I wouldn’t be surprised to see him involved.

Selection: Abracadabra Sivola

E.W. : Wicked Willy

John Gray

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