Betfair Exchange “Fixed Brush” Handicap Hurdle 2m7f Haydock Saturday – The race features the use of fixed brush hurdles which are based on the French Hurdle design, and are comparable to a lower version of our standard plain fence. Unlike the traditional Hurdle they are of a rigid construction, and as they are much less forgiving, need plenty of respect. Considering the Gallic origin of the hurdles, it is not surprising that young French Breds, who are schooled over these obstacles from the cradle, have such a good record in the contest. Indeed six of the eleven winners since it’s inception in 2005 were born the other side of the English Channel. No animal older than seven has won in its eleven year history, with five 5yo’s, three 6yo’s and three 7yo’s sharing the spoils. It has proved a stepping stone to greater things for some outstanding chasers including Holywell, Dynaste, and Gold Cup Hero, Synchronised.
Last year’s impressive winner, the ill fated 5yo Irish bred, Baradari, won for the Skelton yard, and they field two very promising types, both born in the Emerald Isle, for this year’s renewal. Born Survivor, a son of Kings Theatre, out of a Bob Back mare is definitely bred with the larger obstacles in mind, but that hasn’t stopped him winning two of his four hurdles starts, and running a race full of promise last time. Having his first start for nearly eight months at Aintree 27 days ago he ran well to finish second (2m4f Good) off a mark of 139. Both his victories have come on slow ground so with plenty of rain about this future 3m+ chaser should be in his element, and off a mark of 141 has to be considered.
The second Skelton runner, Two Taffs, is an Irish bred 6yo, and he also looks a likely type. A winner of his last two Hurdle races, this animal is also bred to be a 3mile chaser, (by Flemensfirth out of a Saddlers Hall mare) but did have the pace to win a 2m1/2f Market Rasen Bumper as a 5yo. He had an easy task last time, when on his first outing for six months, he trotted up in a 2 1/2m Carlisle Novices Hurdle twenty days ago which should have put him spot on for Saturday. He looks bound to be suited by the step up in trip at the weekend and with only 10st11lbs on his back Harry Skelton has a very tricky choice to make between the two contenders.
Unowhatimeanharry is attempting to become the first 8yo to land the spoils, and he certainly has plenty to recommend him. He won the 3m Albert Bartlett handicap at the Cheltenham Festival off a mark of 152 last time out, and amazingly, for a Festival winner, is now set to race off a 3lbs lower mark. The 8yo didn’t join the Fry Academy until last year, and prior to that had managed to win only one, (a Fontwell bumper in 2013) of his thirteen starts. Since coming under the tutelage of master trainer Fry, he remains unbeaten, winning all of his five starts, culminating in that Cheltenham victory. He handles most ground, can go well fresh and in the hands of his excellent handler could make it six from six.
Despite gaining a couple of places from only seven runners over the last decade, the race has eluded the master of Ditcheat, but Mr Nicholls, with three strong looking contenders this year, seems determined to correct this gap in his C.V. His 7yo French bred, Caid Du Berlais, seemed to improve for the step up to 3m 1/2f at Aintree two weeks ago. Ridden by the very promising 5lbs claimer, Stan Shepard, he won a Class2 Handicap with consummate ease off a mark of 140 and an eight pounds rise looks very fair. He has won a couple of races over fences so Saturday’s obstacles shouldn’t be a problem and with young Stan taking 5lbs off again, giving him a racing weight of 11st2lbs has to be on the shortlist.
Nicholls second runner, Ibis Du Rheu, as a 5yo French bred, who has won over similar obstacles in the land of his birth as a 3yo, has plenty to recommend him on the stats, and he also showed what a talented horse he is when winning the “Martin Pipe” at the Festival in the hands of Saturday’s pilot, the 5lbs claimer Jack Sherwood off a mark of 139. He doesn’t look badly treated on a 7lbs higher mark here and Sherwood’s claim will be useful, but there must be a slight doubt about the trip and he hasn’t been seen since finishing well down the field at Aintree in April.
The Nicholls third runner, another 5yo French bred, Mr Mix, has had a pipe opener, and if it came up very soft would be of definite interest. He was sent off the 4/1 fav over 2 1/2m off a mark of 138 at Chepstow six weeks ago and as it was a first run since March it was a satisfactory effort, beaten only 2L in fifth. Bound to improve for the race and the step up in trip at the weekend he looks well treated on 139. Mr Mix has won on heavy ground so if the heavens do open he is going to look a very definite possible with just 10st9lbs, (including Harry Cobdens claim) on his back.
Selection: Caid Du Berlais
E.W. : Mr Mix