With trainers having to make multiple declarations due to the wretched weather, it’s hard to know how many of the 23 five day runners declared for Doncaster’s feature will stand their ground, but on paper the heat looks a cracker, so let’s hope the wet weather doesn’t deter too many of them. On the face of it, the beautifully level track at Town Moor doesn’t look a particularly testing course, but Handicap Chases here tend to be run with the choke out, and if runners go for home turning into the long straight, which they nearly always do, its a long way to the finishing post, and usually it is the strongest stayer who prevails, so sufficient stamina to see out the trip is most important. Neither of the two previous winners in Saturday’s field, Definitely Red (2017) and last year’s Hero, Chidswell, should fail on this front, and of the two, the former looks the better equipped to handle the likely testing conditions at the weekend, and is preferred.
Racing off a mark of 149, Brian Ellison’s stable star, ran a marvellous race to win the 2017 renewal, never touching a twig the whole way round he came home 14L clear of the subsequent Grand National runner up, The Last Samuri. He races off a mark 7 lbs higher on Saturday but having put in some classy performances in the intervening three years, he has been rated as high as 167, and the evergreen 11yo, showed there is still plenty left in the locker when finishing 2nd to Vintage Clouds (rec 13lbs) in Haydock’s Grade2 Peter Marsh Chase last time, off Saturday’s mark of 156.
Paul Nicholls (main picture) sole victory came 20 years ago with one of the few 7yo’s to have ever won the race, Knights Templar, who won with the featherweight of 10-0 on his back, and the master of Ditcheat will be hoping to pull off a similar trick on Saturday with another 7yo, Worthy Farm, who has just 10-4 to carry. The son of Beneficial made little impression in his first two runs over fences but demonstrated in pretty convincing fashion in his last two that what is required is a trip, 3 miles+ on testing ground. In the first of them, racing off a mark of 125, (Wincanton 3m1f Soft Dec26) he travelled well throughout and comfortably held the challenge of Broadclyst who was receiving 15lbs. 5 weeks later, racing off a 5lbs higher mark, he outstayed the 137 rated, The Kings Writ, for a 2L victory over the same course and distance on Heavy. The latter victory was all the more meritorious as the runner up was well ridden by a 7lbs claimer that day which makes the improving Nicholls horse look very well treated on his mark of 137 at the weekend.
Michael Scudamore, whose yard is currently operating at a 100% success rate (3/3 in the last 14 days) runs the lightly raced 9yo, Some Chaos and if by some miracle the ground did start to dry out could be interesting. A winner of 4/7 over fences he ran his best race to date when winning a Kelso Class2 Handicap (3m2f Good)off a mark of 138 last March by 2 1/4L from the 146 rated Blue Flight. Retired for the season he has run 3 times this term, twice in Novice Hurdles and just the once over fences when finishing 13/24 in The Ladbroke at Newbury in November. He looks well handicapped on Saturday’s mark of 142 and if the sun did come out would be well worth a second look.
Dan Skelton has 3 entries, all lurking around the bottom of the handicap, and the most interesting of them could be his Warwick Classic Chase runner up, Captain Chaos. The 9yo has a relatively poor strike rate of 3/20 over fences but the Warwick effort was his best for some time, and racing off the same mark on Saturday, (134) will think he’s loose with just 10-1 on his back.
Despite some dodgy jumping, the Caroline Bailey trained 7yo, Boldmere, beat the subsequent Musselburgh Class2 winner, Bob Mahler by 10L in a Clas3 Handicap over 3 miles here at Doncaster off a mark of 133 at the end of December, and 34 days later, taking a big step up in class, looked to have the race at his mercy when coming down at the last when 3L clear in Wetherby’s Grade2 Towton Novices Chase. (3miles Soft) Boldmere only came to the excellent Ms Bailey at the end of last October and has now won 2 of his 4 starts for the yard and if she can get him to concentrate a little better at his fences there could be plenty more to come.
The Stuart Edmonds trained 9yo, Now Mc Ginty was a decent hurdler, (142) and is maturing into an even better chaser. He has only won one of his 8 starts over fences, but has run some excellent races in defeat, not least when giving the 163 rated Santini a fright at Sandown in November. Making his seasonal debut, he made the running until after the 2nd last, where the classy Santini forged ahead, but Now Mc Ginty battled back and was only beaten a head. He was sent off a 7/1 chance for The Welsh Grand National next time out but 3m6 1/2f in the Chepstow mud proved a bridge too far for the son of Stowaway and he finished 9/27, 29L behind the winner. However he has had a nice 9 weeks break since, and considering he ran last weeks Betway Handicap Chase winner, Mr Malarky (151) to 1 1/2L in last year’s Grade2 Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot, he doesn’t look at all badly treated on Saturday’s mark of 147, giving him a comfortable racing weight of 11-0. From a top NH family, 5 of his 6 siblings have been winners, the most notable of them being the triple Grade1 winner Outlander.
Only 3 animals have successfully carried more than 11-7 in the history of the event so top weight, Beware The Bear has a serious challenge on his hands. However he is no stranger to carrying big weights and won a Cheltenham Handicap (3m2 1/2F G/S Jan 2019) with the steadier of 12-1 on his back. However that was off a mark of 146 in a poorer race and he is 13lbs higher on Saturday. He could only finish 4th in The Ladbroke Trophy off a pound lower so a win for the 10yo looks a big ask.
Selection. : Worthy Farm
EW. : Captain Chaos Now Mc Ginty