Having won the race four times in the last six years, including the last twice, any contender from the Llancarfan yard, in the Vale of Glamorgan, of Welsh Maestro, Evan Williams, needs a close look, and his two contenders this time, Court Royale and John Constable, are certainly of interest.
The former, a 6yo, has won 3 of his 9 starts over hurdles including last time out, when he outbattled the useful, Snapdragon Fire to win a Class3 Ludlow Handicap by 1 1/2L 23 days ago, racing off a mark of 121. He has been put up 5lbs for Saturday’s contest which looks fair, but still needs 10 above him in the handicap to come out to get a run. Another slight concern would be that all his wins have been on right handed tracks, and indeed he has done most of his racing going clockwise, so perhaps Evan’s best chance of landing a 5th victory lies with the 8yo John Constable.
By Montjeu, he is a full brother to the St Leger and Ascot Gold Cup winner, leading light, and he won The Swinton 2 years ago by an impressive 14L off a mark of 134. Raised 16lbs for his next run, he comfortably won the valuable and competitive Summer Handicap Hurdle at Market Rasen 3 months later, but has failed to fire in his subsequent 14 starts, (was a respectable 7th off a mark of 156 in last year’s renewal). There was little encouragement to be drawn from his last run 4 months ago either, finishing down the field in a Cheltenham Handicap in January off a mark of 134, but if the man from Llancarfan has been able to get this talented individual back to anywhere near his best, he is an extremely well handicapped animal on his mark of 132. Interestingly if Mr Williams did land the race with the 8yo, it would complete a striking sequence for Evan, winning the contest with a 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8yo.
Nicky Henderson has won this twice, (Eradicate in 2010 and 2011) and must have serious prospects of landing a 3rd with his course and distance winning Novice,
Mister Fisher. He won The Grade2 Rossington Main Novices Hurdle in January, from the now 149 rated, Bright Forecast by 2 1/2L, (3rd in the Grade1 Ballymore at The Cheltenham Festival) which does make Saturday’s mark of 145 look reasonable. He has to be forgiven a poor showing in the Supreme Novices at The Festival, (8/16) but back on a flat track on better ground can make his presence felt.
The Dr Richard Newland (pictured) trained 7yo, Le Patriote is 5/14 over hurdles and has looked an improved performer in his last 2 races. He won an Ayr Class2 (2Miles Good) in November off a mark of 135 and following a 165 day break won a Cheltenham Class2 (2m4f Good) off a 7lbs higher mark 25 days ago. A 3lbs rise looks very fair, and with Sam Twiston-Davies who is riding better than ever in the Plate, The Newland horse is definitely one to be interested in.
A Swinton victory is one of the few big Hurdle races missing from the CV of Paul Nicholls, but the master Of Ditcheat will be hoping that his 4yo, Christopher Wood can get his head in front on Saturday and fill in the gap. 4yo’s, with only 2 wins in the last two decades, don’t have a great record in the race, but they do get a valuable 4lbs age allowance, and the Nicholls horse looked much more the finished article when coming 3rd in the Grade1 Anniversary Novices Hurdle at Aintree last time. This was only the ex flat racers third race over hurdles, and he travelled well throughout keeping on well to finish 6 1/4L behind the winner, Pentland Hills. Rated 142, with his 4lbs age allowance, he has the nice racing weight of 11-2 and could be interesting.
Talented flat racer, Sofia’s Rock, achieved a rating of 106 when trained by Mark Johnson, and promises to be just as good over hurdles. He joined Dan Skelton’s yard last September and has won 2 of his 3 races over hurdles. He was quite impressive last time winning a Ludlow Novices by 13L from the previous winner Good Man Jim. With plenty of experience in big handicaps on the flat, Saturday’s large field shouldn’t be a problem, and he looks well treated on a mark of 140.
The Seamus Mullins trained Arthington ran the best race of his career three weeks ago when just failing to get up to beat Saturday’s opponent, Cubwin, over course and distance. In a very competitive 16 runner field, he finished much the strongest and was an unlucky loser. On the same terms he should finish in front of Cubwin and there could be plenty more to come from the 6yo.
The Olly Murphy (pictured) trained Fiesole is another who put in a career best performance last time, winning a Plumpton Class2 by a long looking 9L from Saturday’s opponent Legal History despite being impeded at the 2nd last. A hike of 12 lbs looks severe but at the very least he should confirm the form with the runner up, (10lbs better off) and it wouldn’t be the greatest surprise if the talented Murphy’s charge, landed the spoils.
Selection : Fiesole
EW. : Arthington. Le Patriote