As Welsh Maestro, Evan Williams has won three of the last five renewals of this valuable contest, his two contenders, John Constable, and Silver Streak, have to be of particular interest. The former won last year’s race by an impressive 14L racing off a mark of 134, and went on to defy a 16lbs higher mark in Market Rasen’s Summer Hurdle next time out. Raised another 6lbs to Saturday’s mark of 156 has seen him confined to conditions events with little success, including last time, when he finished 41L behind Buveur D’Aire in The Champion Hurdle in ninth place. Considering a mark of 141, ( Nicky Henderson’s Eradicate in 2011) is the highest rating of any winner in the last twelve years, John Constable clearly has a mammoth task on his hands, so perhaps Evan’s best chance of landing a fourth Swinton lies with the 5yo, Silver Streak.
A winner of three of his ten starts over hurdles, his highest winning mark to date has been 122, but he did run really well when finishing 2nd off a mark of 130 in the very valuable Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last December. If top weight and stable companion, John Constable, takes up the engagement, Silver Streak will only have the featherweight of 10-2 to carry and with his preferred good ground at the weekend almost assured, has to be worth considering.
Nicky Henderson won back to back runnings of The Swinton with Eradicate in 2010 and 2011 and fields two strong looking candidates, the 6yo mare, Verdana Blue and the 7yo Whatswrongwithyou this time around. The mare has been unplaced in her last two races but was a decent 3rd in that Racing Welfare heat at Ascot in December, and is 3lbs better off with the runner up that day, Silver Streak. Nevertheless, she looks high enough on her mark of 143, and preference is for the year older Whatswrongwithyou.
Lightly raced, he has only run four times over timber, finishing 2nd on his debut in December, winning a Novices next time from the useful Ok Corrall, and then winning his first venture into handicap company very easily off a mark of 133. He was beaten last time at Sandown off a mark of 139 but there were excuses as he was caught behind a wall of horses turning in, and did run on to finish 9L third of fifteen. We are unlikely to have yet seen the best of the 7yo, but a concern would be the likely top of the ground conditions at the weekend as he has never won on a surface with good in the going description before. However the messages from his pedigree are positive as his sire, Bienamado, won three times at the highest level on either Firm or Good to Firm, and his half brother, Gvs Irportensa has won and been placed on Good.
Philip Hobbs won the Swinton with Dreams end way back in 1994, and doubled up three years ago with War Sound, so certainly knows what is required, and he fields a likely looking candidate in the tough handicapper, Sternrubin. Mixing the flat, chasing and hurdling, the 7yo has won four of his sixteen starts over timber, (including a 4L victory over John Constable in Nov 2015) but has only raced four times over the smaller obstacles since beating Instant Karma in a Class1 Ascot Handicap Hurdle off a mark of 142 in October 2016. His last two runs have been quite promising, 10/24 in The County Hurdle, and 3/15 last time at Aintree, 11L behind Havana Beat, Racing off a mark of 140. Competing in large field handicaps holds no fears for the 7yo, who should have his preferred ground on Saturday, and running off a mark of 139, with the Hobbs operation firing in the winners at present, is well worth a second look.
Having fallen in The Henry V111 Novices Chase behind Sceau Royal in December, the Paul Nicholls trained Capitaine reverted to hurdles 130 days later, and finished a respectable 5/15 at Cheltenham in April, racing off a mark of 139. The 6yo has been dropped to a mark of 137 (12lbs below his Chase mark) which looks pretty generous for an animal that won an Ascot Grade2 in December 2016. He likes good ground and has form over the course so could just fill in a significant gap in the P. Nicholls C.V.
Another reverting to hurdles following a highly successful stint steeplechasing is last year’s runner up, Optimus Prime. Since then the Dan Skelton trained 6yo has made serious progress over fences, winning three of his four starts, and finishing runner up, albeit at a respectful 12L, to superstar Footpad, at The Punchestown Festival. He is now rated 147 in that discipline and if he has made similar progress over hurdles would look very well treated on Saturday’s mark of 140.
Having been held up off the pace in last year’s contest, the Alan King trained William H Bonney started to improve from before the third last, and but for having to swerve to avoid a faller at the last, might have been placed. His last four races have been disappointing, although he did look as if he might deliver at Cheltenham in November in the Greatwood Hurdle, when he looked a possible winner at the last, but faded up the hill to finish 6th off a mark of 137. His master trainer has always felt that the 7yo has what it takes to win one of these valuable handicaps and has certainly been given a chance by the handicapper, racing off a mark 4lbs lower than last year, and 8lbs lower than for the Greatwood. Odds of 33/1 available at the time of writing.
E.W. : Sternrubin and William H Bonney