Inaugurated in 1960, this valuable Grade3 Handicap, with it’s maximum field of 20, is invariably run with the choke out from flag-fall, and is no place for the faint hearted. The great Martin Pipe with an amazing 8 wins before retiring, certainly understood the type of animal required to succeed in this tough handicap, and son David will be hoping that a little of the Old Mans Magic has rubbed off when he attempts to win the race for the second time on Saturday with the ex French, Kings Socks.
The 6yo has only raced 3 times since finishing 2nd (Btn 2 1/2L) to the outstanding Willie Mullins trained, Footpad, now rated 166, in a French Grade1 Hurdle back in
June 2016. Thanks to niggling problems, it was a frustrating 607 days interval between his arrival at Pond House in September 2016, before the son of Kings Best could make his British racecourse debut. He finished 3rd to Modus in a Class 2 Kempton Graduation Chase last February and 34 days later ran well to finish 5th, 8 1/2L behind
The Storyteller off a mark of 140 in a Grade3 Handicap at The Cheltenham Festival. Sent off the 7/2fav for the Red Rum Chase at Aintree the following month he was pulled up before 3 out and hasn’t been seen since. None of the above inspires any great confidence, but the suspicion lingers that we have yet to see the best of the Pipe horse, and off his mark of 139, giving him a racing weight of 10-4 he looks dangerously well handicapped.
Nicky Henderson’s sole success came with Fondmort 15 years ago, but he goes out to bat this time with a very live contender, the 7yo son of Oscar, Rather Be. He hasn’t raced since going down by a Head, off a mark of 153, to Mister Whitaker in The Close Brothers Novices Handicap (Soft) at The Festival in March, and meets that opponent on 9lbs better terms at the weekend. He goes well at Prestbury Park, running well in the 2016 Festival Bumper, and significantly, “The Close Brothers”was run over Saturday’s track, The Old Course. Lack of a recent run is of no concern as he has won 3 times following a break of 6 months or longer. He looks nicely handicapped on a mark of 149 giving him a racing weight of 11-0 and has a serious chance of providing The Master Of Seven Barrow’s with a second success.
Despite being 9lbs worse off with Rather Be, Mick Channon’s Mister Whitaker deserves plenty of respect as he is clearly an animal improving at a rate of knots.
He has won his last three races, including the above heat over course and distance, and is bound to have benefited hugely from his reappearance win over Happy Diva at Carlisle 14 days ago. Very buzzy at the start he finished strongly up the Carlisle hill to beat the 140 rated runner up and should be a much more settled horse on Saturday. A 7lbs rise for the win looks quite severe but this 6yo, half brother to the useful, Broadway Buffalo, probably has plenty more to offer, and with the stable firing on all cylinders will be hard to keep out of the placings.
The Neil Mulholland trained 7yo, Kalondra would have gone close to winning The Galway Plate but for falling at the 2nd last racing off a mark of 147, and looks well handicapped on only a pound higher. He is another who enjoys the Prestbury Park air, finishing 3rd to Traffic Fluide last April and winning a Novices Chase last December both over the New Course, and coming from a yard in form is worth considering.
Irish stables have only taken the prize twice in the last 40 years, and if this poor record is to be improved, the sole representative from across The Irish Sea, Black Scorpion, will need a few above him in the Handicap to come out, but if he does get into the race, he wouldn’t be the worst EW punt, at 33/1 in the contest. He won nicely at Listowel in September and probably found the 3mile trip in The Munster National last time beyond him.
The BetVictor hasn’t been the greatest heat for top weights, but having said that it’s hard to ignore the claims of this year’s racecard no1, Frodon. One of 4 entries from the twice winning yard of Paul Nicholls, the 6yo, French bred Frodon, has won 8 of his 19 starts over fences, and following wind surgery and a 193 day break, put up a career best effort 3 weeks ago when winning the Grade2 Old Roan Chase at Aintree, off a mark of 158, under a great ride from Bryony Frost (pictured). Frodon has won twice at Cheltenham, including a near unique victory as a 4yo in the 2016 “Caspian Caviar,” and indeed was travelling strongly in that year’s renewal of the BetVictor when blundering away his chance at the 4th last. The son of Nickname has been jumping fences since his 3yo days in France and May only now be reaching his full potential, (has been entered for The King George V1) and it will come as no surprise if he joins that select band of Top Weighted Winners, particularly if Ms Frost keeps the ride.
Selection : Mister Whitaker
E.W. : Frodon