First run in 1981, 4 of the first 9 winners went on to collect Cheltenham’s Blue Riband,
Little Owl (pictured), Bregawn, The Thinker, and Jodami. However subsequent renewals have seen The Peter Marsh become the preserve of tough, established handicappers, and it is hard to envisage any of this year’s contenders (with the possible exception of Nicky Henderson’s recent French import, Valtor, who has ambitions in that direction) troubling the judge at Prestbury Park in March. West Yorkshire trainer, Sue Smith, with 3 successes in the contest, has the best record, and her sole entry this year,
Wakanda, is certainly tough, and wont fail for lack of experience.
A son of Westerner, and a half brother to the useful Irish pair, Shanahan’s Turn, and
Kings Song, Wakanda is certainly bred for the job and has won 7 of his 25 starts over fences. The 10yo put in an excellent effort 12 months ago when winning Doncaster’s valuable Sky Bet Handicap Chase off a mark of 145, staying on strongly, to get the better of Warriors Tale and the Nicky Henderson trained warm favourite, L’Ami Serge, in a close finish. His 2 subsequent efforts last term were disappointing, but both starts this season, 5th in a Wetherby Hurdle over an inadequate 2 miles, and a respectable 4th in a Grade3 Chase at the same venue 24 days ago, suggest that he may be nearing his peak. He is only 1lb higher than Doncaster on Saturday, and if turning up,
(also entered in next week’s Sky Bet Handicap) has to be seriously considered.
David Pipe won with the 12yo, Our Vic, 9 years ago, and fields 3 interesting looking contenders this time, Two 7yo’s, Ramses De Teillee, and Daklondike, plus the 10yo Vieux Lion Rouge.
While it is 23 years since a 7yo has won, both Ramses De Teillee and Daklondike have plenty to recommend them. The former, a winner of 3 of his 9 starts over fences put in a career best performance last time when going down by 1 1/4L to Elegant Escape in The Welsh Grand National 23 days ago, (Indeed might have won but for a bad mistake 4 out). He looks an improving stayer and may be capable of defying his 5lbs higher mark on Saturday. Daklondike has won 4 of his 8 starts, and also put in an excellent effort last time, sporting a visor for the first time, he won the 2m7f Tommy Whittle over the course 4 weeks ago. A length down at the last, he responded gallantly to Tom Scudamore’s driving, and ran on strongly on the heavy ground to beat Saturday’s opponent, Ballyarthur. He is 6 lbs higher at the weekend but should be well suited by the extra 2 1/2f, and as a course winner, (not every animal handles Haydock’s upright fences and clay surface) has plenty going for him.
The third runner from Pond House, the 10yo, Vieux Lion Rouge has become inconsistent. It is nearly 2 years since he last got his head in front where it matters. However, following wind surgery, he did run well to finish 2nd in The Beecher Chase, over the National fences on his reappearance, but then never looked at all interested in The Welsh National 3 weeks later, where he was pulled up at the 20th. However, racing in the same colours as Daklondike, and as a double course winner, he is difficult to entirely dismiss.
Having joined Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard in mid November from France, the 10yo veteran of 51 races, Valtor, put up an amazing performance only 5 weeks later, winning a valuable Ascot Class1 Listed Handicap at odds of 33/1. Always travelling well within himself, and handling the British fences, which he was seeing for the first time, with aplomb, he came home 8L clear of Jammin Masters, with the 149 rated Benatar a further 1/2L back in third. A strict interpretation of the form I suppose justifies his 12lbs rise to 160, giving him top weight of 11-10 on Saturday, and if connections Cheltenham ambitions are to be entertained, a very prominent showing this weekend will be required.
The second Henderson runner, O O Seven was ending a 23 months drought when getting his head in front at Doncaster 5 weeks ago. Racing off a mark of 147 he stayed on well to beat Go Conquer by a head. There probably isn’t that much more to come from the 8yo, and off a 5 lbs higher mark on Haydock’s holding surface, Henderson’s best chance of landing the prize lies with his recent French import.
Colin Tizzard won last year’s renewal with The Dutchman, and relies this time on the lightly raced 10yo, Robinsfirth. A winner of 2 of his 6 starts over fences, he hasn’t been seen since winning a Cheltenham Grade3 off a mark of 142 13 months ago. He beat the now 137 rated Shanroe Santos, to whom he was conceding 15 lbs, by 2L, which makes his mark of 146 on Saturday look generous. He has solid course form, finishing 2nd on his only other Haydock appearance, goes well after a break, and with the talented Tizzard Team doing the training, the son of Flemensfirth has plenty going for him.
Selection : Robinsfirth
EW. : Wakanda (If Abs. Daklondike)