This weekend sees the commencement of the new season at Prestbury Park and Saturday’s feature, The Randox Health Handicap Chase, with 18 runners declared at the time of writing, looks like being a pretty competitive affair. The Paul Nicholls trained Modus won last year’s renewal, but only after a sustained battle up that famous hill with the 10yo Duke Of Navan, and racing off the same mark this year, the “Dukes” talented trainer, Nicky Richards, must fancy his chances of going one better with his evergreen veteran. Having his first run for 189 days, the son of Presenting travelled superbly throughout last year’s heat, took it up after the last, and in a sustained dual with the winner was only collared in the shadow of the post. The 11yo, who handles most ground, showed he was as good as ever when finishing a close 3rd in a valuable Leopardstown Handicap in February, and following the same pattern as last year (he is again making his seasonal debut following a 197 day break) has to be of interest.
Mr Nicholls has two entered, Capeland and Brelan D’As, and despite the formers win in a Bumper over the track in 2016, the impression remains that he is better suited by going right handed, so Paul’s best chance of bringing the prize back to Ditcheat again would seem to lie with the 8yo Brelan D’As. The ex French son of Crillon has won 2 of his 10 starts over fences, and put in an excellent effort when finishing 3rd in The Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap over the New course at The Festival in March. He could be better suited by the less galloping nature of the Old course on Saturday, and as one who can go well after a break, and handles soft ground is well worth considering.
Just behind Brelan D’As in The Grand Annual was the Brian Ellison trained Forest Bihan, and 8lbs better off with the Nicholls horse on Saturday must have serious prospects of reversing the form if taking up the engagement. (Also entered in The Old Roan at Aintree on Sunday). Following a break of 176 days he had a nice pipe opener when finishing 3rd behind Saturday’s opponent, Mcgroarty at Kelso 20 days ago and sure to have benefited from the run can be fancied to get the better of Dr Newland’s charge on 5lbs better terms. As a Grade 2 winner over fences he has a touch of Class and with the yard firing in the winners from all directions the 8yo has plenty to recommend him.
Mind you the Ellison second string, the 6yo, Nietzsche, is not without a chance. A hugely versatile type, he must be a real pleasure to own. A talented competitor on the flat, he has won 4 times in that discipline, and has proved just as adept at hurdling, notching up another 4 wins over timber. To date he has won 2 of his 6 starts over fences and is rated on a mark of 135 giving him a nice racing weight of 10-6 on Saturday. However a lot of rain wouldn’t help his cause.
The Charlie Longsdon trained Western Miller’s form took a definite upturn in June with two impressive front running victories over 20f at Stratford and Southwell and is now rated 16lbs higher than he was at the end of May. He has never won over 2 miles but isn’t short of pace, (close 2nd twice in National Hunt Flat races) and could make his presence felt with another front running effort.
The Dan Skelton trained 8yo Marracudja, has won over Saturday’s course and distance when trained by Paul Nicholls but has drawn a blank in his 8 starts since changing yards 14 months ago. However his penultimate run at Perth wasn’t without promise and he is now on a mark a pound lower than his previous winning mark. Coming from this yard it won’t surprise if the son of Martaline proves competitive.
Harry Whittingham’s ex French 6yo, Saint Calvados, has won 4 of his first 5 races including a Warwick Grade2 in February 2018 and a Naas Grade3 in Nov 2018 since crossing the Channel. However, stepped up to Grade1 level for his three runs since, he has failed to be competitive, last time finishing 24L behind Altior in The Queen Mother Chase at The Festival. Saturday represents a big drop in class for this talented individual who will relish plenty of rain, can go well fresh and looks reasonably treated on his mark of 155.
Selection : Forest Bihan
EW. : Duke Of Navan