A very competitive handicap with Clyne, beaten by The New One at Ffos Las on his seasonal debut, is open to improvement, handles heavy conditions and has course and distance form, seems the obvious one to beat @ 10/3. Limited Reserve ran a cracker at Ascot last time but will have to handle heavy conditions around this sharp hurdles track though James Bowen’s claim sees him well treated at the weights. Improving El Terremoto and Diamond Fort could be the value options while lightly raced eight year old Value At Risk needs to build on his run behind Unowhatimeanharry. Verni is another lightly raced eight year old who will have to be race fit and improve from when last seen in March.
Royal Regatta won this race last year with a valiant front running effort and will no doubt bid to do the same again, though worryingly he has been pulled up on all starts since bar a third in the Ascot Chase in January. He clearly goes well here and should be respected. Top Notch, only six, is open to improvement and given a little cut in the ground, which he should get, aligned with course form gives him a very good chance here. Both his defeats last spring came on good ground so autumnal conditions will no doubt suit. Top Notch’s conqueror at Aintree, Flying Angel, was pulled up at Ayr on his final run last season before getting outpaced over two miles and five furlongs, producing a below par effort on his return at Newton Abbot. He has a bit to prove now. Smad Place is race fit and should run to his best mark but this consistent sort is often vulnerable to the improving types while Josses Hill goes well fresh and cannot be totally ruled out. Top Gamble had some tough assignments last year and this is more his level, with fitness the only question mark and at the weights looks the value @ 7/1.
The Worlds End was a top class novice hurdler over three miles last season and is expected to improve over timber before going chasing. He should handle conditions and rates the one to beat @ 11/2. Minella Awards is another novice stepping into open company for the first time and has some good form to his name, with improvement likely. It is interesting to see that he was beaten by Champers On Ice earlier in his career and he now returns to hurdles for David Pipe who has won this race three times in the last ten years and could be worth a bet @ 7/1. Another trainer with a good record in this is Nick Williams who saddles Le Rocher, he should enjoy conditions. No Hassle Hoff and Sam Spinner made good comebacks in handicaps and should go well while last year’s second Theo’s Charm, Silsol, Robbin’Hannon and Templeross can be competitive at bigger prices.
This is the acid test for the four year old Defi Du Seuil, unbeaten over hurdles, takes on his elders for the first time. An impressive winner of the Triumph and Doom Bar Hurdles last spring, Philip Hobbs’ son of Voix Du Nord steps up in trip and given the likely improvement to come, should add his name alongside some of the illustrious winners of this race. Lil Rockerfeller will be fitter for his run in the West Yorkshire Hurdle on ground softer than ideal and rates the biggest threat to the favourite. This Stayers Hurdle second will no doubt attempt to make this a test of stamina, similar to twelve months ago when faced with Yanworth, to see if there are any chinks in Defi Du Seuil’s armour. L’Ami Serge reverted to hurdling at the turn of the year with his best performances coming in his last three runs but he is still a little short of what is required to win this. Wakea and Dicosimo will pick up the place money.
With the defection of Gold Cup winner Sizing John this race has lost some of its attraction, nonetheless the evergreen Cue Card lines up and seeks a fourth victory. With long time jockey Paddy Brennan replaced by Harry Cobden, it remains to be seen if youth has an effect on this veteran chaser. He is prone to the odd mistake but seems to retain his ability and is proven in the ground. It is up to others in the field to improve past this eleven year old. Bristol De Mai looks the most likely to progress and produced a career best in the Charlie Hall at Wetherby, but this is much tougher. He seems best at this time of year so this may be his best chance of winning a grade one this season. Proven grade one winner Outlander had an operation over the summer to remedy kissing spines, an ailment that blights many a thoroughbred. He won well at Down Royal with cheekpieces fitted and a reproduction of that form would see him thereabouts but consistency has not been his strong point. Tea For Two finally rid his tag of being best at right handed tracks when winning the Aintree Bowl from Cue Card last April, handles the ground and could be value @ 12/1 though he will have to improve markedly on his reappearance. Traffic Fluide made a good comeback at Aintree behind Smad Place looking like a step up in trip may suit and if producing anything like his third behind Un De Sceaux in 2016 would be a major player.
This can be billed as the young pretender San Benedeto v the multiple grade one winning veteran Sire De Grugy. The first three home last season all line up again with the classy Sire De Grugy, who still possesses a fair amount of his ability, respected after a good comeback over hurdles at Ffos Las. Quite By Chance goes well at Ascot and should again give his running @ 4/1 while third in this race a year ago, Vaniteux has lost his way somewhat. Haldon Gold Cup second San Benedeto, a course and distance winner, is more than capable of landing a prize like this, is open to more progression and should go well @ 7/2. Upsilon Bleu ran well in this race last year, is on a winning mark and could be a little big @ 20/1 while Sir Valentino and Dandridge are both ‘well in’ on Quickened Clear’s figures. One to keep half an eye on is Cepage for Venetia Williams @ 14/1, he goes well fresh, is only five and if the jumping has improved could cause a shock.
In the conditions this will be a gruelling race. Lessons In Milan makes his seasonal debut after producing a career best when fifth in the Scottish National, if fit he can go well for Nicky Henderson and Daryl Jacob. Robinsfirth ran well at Cheltenham and this stiff test of stamina looks ideal presuming he handles the ground, he is very lightly raced for an eight year old and can improve. Ballymalin is another open to improvement, again with this type of test likely to suit as all he does is stay and can go well for the in-form Nigel Twiston-Davies @ 8/1. Henri Parry Morgan made a good return at Newbury and if his jumping holds out, looks well handicapped and is a player. Catamaran De Seuil and Sir Ivan are unexposed types worthy of consideration while Kaki De La Pree and Baywing are well treated if producing their best.
Quickened Clear’s Best Bets:
Champers On Ice – 2.25 Haydock – 1pt win @ 7/1
Ballymalin – 3.35 Haydock – 1pt win @ 8/1