Four of the first 9 winners of Saturday’s feature, Little Owl, Bregawn, The Thinker, And Jodami went on to land Cheltenham’s Blue Riband, but alas, that was a golden period for northern stables, eager to run their best on their local tracks, and while subsequent winners have in the main been a talented lot, the race has become the preserve of tough staying handicappers who act on proper testing winter ground. West Yorkshire trainer Sue Smith with 4 winners on the board, (including Wakanda last year and Oddsguru’s EW selection) is by some distance the most successful handler and will be hoping to bring home the bacon for a fifth time with the 10yo, Vintage Clouds, on Saturday.
Having won twice and been placed 7 times from 9 course appearances, the son of that good NH stallion, Clouding, clearly enjoys the Merseyside air, and he put in another decent effort 4 weeks ago, finishing 3rd in The Tommy Whittle over Saturday’s course and distance. Outpaced from 4 out, he rallied after the 2nd last, and stayed on well to grab third place close home, albeit 20L behind the winner, Lord Du Mesnil. All ground comes alike to Vintage Clouds, but he is particularly effective on Heavy, and with top Haydock pilot, Danny Cook, (has ridden the winner of The Peter Marsh 3 times) doing the steering, racing off a mark he has previously won from, Ms Smith’s contender is one to be interested in.
Somerset trainer David Pipe won with the 12yo, Our Vic ten years ago, and has 2 entered, both in the same ownership, the 10yo, Champers On Ice and the two years younger Daklondike. With few miles on the clock, (17 runs ) the former is pretty lightly raced and his sole victory from 4 starts over fences came in a Uttoxeter Novices over 3 years ago. A respectable 2nd in a Class1 Warwick Novices followed 5 weeks later but he disappointed in both subsequent races over fences including in his last Chase, when sent off the 7/1 fourth choice, for the 4 miles National Hunt Chase at The Cheltenham Festival in 2017. He has been campaigned exclusively over hurdles since and there were serious signs of a revival in his fortunes at Ffos Las in November when making his seasonal debut, following a 241 days break. Looking a tad rusty, he made all in the 3mile heat (Soft) off a mark of 132 and stayed on well to win by 3 3/3L. He confirmed the promise with another strong staying performance 19 days later, winning a 3 miles Class2 Newbury Handicap off a mark of 137, and 2 weeks after that, finished a close 3rd in a Cheltenham Class2 off a mark of 140. Clearly in good heart, he will be tackling fences for the first time in nearly 3 years but some of that early Chase form, (4 1/2L behind the now 154 rated American in that Warwick Class1) make him look very realistically handicapped on a mark of 141 on Saturday. A slight concern would be the trip as he has never won beyond 3 miles but he certainly wasn’t stopping up the Cheltenham Hill last time.
There are no such worries about his 2 years younger stablemate, Daklondike, as he has won a 3m2f Newbury Handicap on Heavy and his style of racing strongly suggests that staying trips are what’s required. However he does seem to have his own ideas about the game and rarely runs two races alike. He was sent off the Market Leader for The Tommy Whittle just before Christmas but never travelled like one, but did keep on under pressure and finished a remote 5th. He is reasonably treated on a mark of 142 giving him a racing weight of 10-10 and one wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he won but being such an Awkward animal, is difficult to recommend.
The Harry Fry trained mare, Acting Lass has won 4 of her 8 starts over fences and put in her best effort to date when just outstayed by Regal Encore in a Class1 Ascot Handicap, (3m Heavy) 4 weeks ago. Racing off a mark of 147 she had the 143 rated Jerrysback, to whom she was conceeding 4lbs, 2 1/2L back in 3rd, which makes Saturday’s mark of 150 giving her a racing weight of 11-4 look just about fair. The 3m1 1/2f trip will be the furthest she has tackled, but she is by Kings Theatre out of a mare who has won a 3m Chase on heavy Ground over Naas’s stamina sapping track, so the omens from her pedigree are pretty positive. A slight cause for concern would be her lack of experience going left-handed, as 10 of her 11 races have been the other way round, but that said, she didn’t seem to have a problem when winning Chepstow’s Coral Welsh Grand National Trial at the beginning of December. (2m7 1/2f Soft)
Another mare who has taken well to fences is the Anthony Honeyball trained Midnight Tune who is 2/5 over fences and has won her last two. It has to be said that they didn’t take a lot of winning, a 4 runner Mares Novices (3m Heavy Uttoxeter) and a 3 runner Mares Novices (2m2f Heavy Exeter) but she won them both very comfortably and the 9yo daughter of the high class hurdler, Midnight Legend is now rated as high over fences as she was over hurdles, 134. (Won 3/11 including a Sandown Grade2). She too is stepping up in trip but is stoutly bred and looked as if she could go around again when winning that Chase at Uttoxeter. If her lack of experience doesn’t count against her with just 10-2 on her back she has to be of interest.
We have yet to see an Irish trained winner of The Peter Marsh but Co Meath Maestro, Gordon Elliott, has an intriguing entry in this year’s renewal, Prince Of Scars. Now a 10yo he was rated as high as 159 over hurdles after winning a Leopardstown Grade1 back in December 2015. He made a very promising start to his chasing career giving the top class, Road To Respect, plenty to think about in November 2016, but has done absolutely nothing in his 7 races since. He has always raced in The Gigginstown Stud
Colours, but the O’Leary’s decided to unload last November, and the intriguing question is why would two such shrewd operators as Simon Munir, and Issac Soude have decided to invest in such a dodgy looking prospect. There were no obvious answers forthcoming in Prince Of Scars first run in their colours at the beginning of December, as after an indifferent round of jumping, he finished a remote sixth,(Fairyhouse 3m5f). However there are few better handlers than Mr Elliott, and it will be interesting to see how the son Of Flemensfirth performs at the weekend.
Selection : Midnight Tune
EW. : Champers On Ice