Paul Nicholls bids for a hat-trick on Saturday
With floods of Biblical proportions devastating the country, North, South, East, and West, it’s difficult to predict what meetings will survive the dreadful weather, but the excellent draining track at Sunbury would seem to hold out the best prospects of any jumping action at the weekend. The top class card features three Grade2s over timber and the very valuable, highly competitive looking, Grade3, Betway Handicap Chase over fences, so let’s hope this quality card gets the go ahead. The Chase was first run in 1949, and while it was always considered a Grand National Trial, it wasn’t until 1988, when the Racing Post Organization took on sponsorship of the event for the first
time, that the winner, Rhyme ‘n’Reason, went on to land the Big One at Aintree. There has only been one other animal to bring off the double since, Rough Quest in 1996, but who knows, another might emerge on Saturday.
Paul Nicholls has won the race twice, and with 4 entered is clearly hoping to land it for a 3rd time. Of his 4, Black Corton has a huge task with top weight, and Romain De Senam hasn’t run since June, so the two to be interested in are Adrien Du Pont and Sametegal. The former was 3rd in last year’s renewal off a mark of 151, and following three, less than convincing efforts since, gets into Saturday’s race on a mark 6 lbs lower. It would be hard to fancy him on his last run, 4/5 beaten 25L at Ascot 9 weeks ago, but he is well handicapped with Saturday’s opponent, Just A Sting who he beat by 3 1/2L over Course and Distance, (Dec 2018) and is only a pound worse off. However, despite plenty of interest in him in the markets, he certainly has questions to answer, and the Ditcheat runner to be interested in is the lightly raced 11yo Sametegal. He has only had 11 starts over fences, (won twice), and has put in 2 very solid rounds since returning from a 665 days break in November. He was an excellent runner up to the now rated 149, Benny’s King, on his reappearance in November, (Newbury) and was even better last time, finishing 4/11, only 2L behind Saturday’s opponent, Just A Sting, over Saturday’s Course and Distance, giving him 7lbs. He didn’t help his cause that day by blundering badly at the first and with the benefit of the talented Conditional,
Bryan Carver’s 5lbs claim at the weekend, he meets the winner on 8lbs better terms, and it should be close between them.
Mind you, Just A Sting has only raced 7 times over fences, and may have needed that last run, so on just a 3 lbs higher mark, he could still be well handicapped, and his talented trainer, Harry Fry, having won with Opening Batsman in 2013 knows what is required.
The last 6yo to land the spoils was the brilliant but unlucky Gloria Victis 20 years ago,(having cantered up in this was killed contesting the Cheltenham Gold Cup 3 weeks later) so the Jane Williams trained market leader, the French bred Erick Le Rouge, will need to be a little special. That said, the 6yo, jumped like an old hand when winning a 2m4 1/2f Handicap here at Kempton 6 weeks ago. Ridden 4L clear two out, he put in a super jump at the last and held on well to win by 3/4L. As this was only his 4th race over fences a 7 lbs rise shouldn’t stop him, but a bigger concern would be Saturday’s trip. ( also engaged in the 2 1/2m Novices on Saturday’s Card) He has never raced beyond 2m5f, (won 2 Hurdle races here at Kempton over 2m5f) and his style of racing doesn’t convince that 3 miles will be ideal, but there are positives from his pedigree, as his half brother, Ornais, won over 3m 1/2f, and wasn’t stopping when finishing 5/20 in the 4 miles National Hunt Chase at the 2008 Festival.
The 10yo, Double Shuffle, has raced 5 times over Saturday’s Course and Distance, and his record reads an impressive 2 5 2 2 1. Racing off a mark of 154 in last year’s renewal and carrying top weight of 11-12, he was conceeding a massive 20lbs to the winner, but despite a courageous effort from the last failed by a length to haul him in. The Handicapper has relented a little, dropping him 4 lbs Giving him a more comfortable racing weight of 11-3 this time, and there would be no more deserving winner, if this runner up in the 2017 King George, managed to get his head in front on Saturday.
The Alan King trained Talk Is Cheap was sent off the 4/1JF for last year’s renewal but could only finish a well beaten 5th off his mark of 145. He put up a dramatically improved performance 9 weeks later when hosing up by 10L off the same mark in Sandown’s Bet365 Gold Cup (3m5f Good) and now races off a mark 12 lbs higher. Perhaps the improved performance at Sandown was down to the longer trip but the lightly raced 8yo isn’t short of pace, (has won 2 Hurdle races over 2m3f) and even off his new mark could make his presence felt particularly in the unlikely event of getting decent ground. A prominent showing would certainly see a contraction in his current odds of 33/1 for Aintree.
The Ben Pauling trained 8yo, Kildisart is 3/8 over fences and a reproduction of his performance when winning an Aintree Grade3 off a mark of 148 by 5L from Mister Malarky last April would make him interesting. He has failed to show a similar level of form in his subsequent 3 races including last time in the Ascot Mud, but is another for whom decent ground could spark a revival. Interestingly his 3 years younger half brother, The Big Breakaway, is getting the pulses racing at Chez Tizzard, down Milborne Port way, as he has trotted up in his one Irish PTP and won both his starts over hurdles with consummate ease.
Selection. : Sametegal
EW. : Just A Sting