A typically competitive handicap, though possibly not as good a quality on show as the handicap on New Year’s Day with the winner, Ballyhill, looking more than capable of following up here @ 7/1. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ seven year old still looks on a fair mark and presuming the jumping holds up, should take the beating. Arctic Gold hails from the same stable and can go well @ 14/1 with conditions likely to suit though he is yet to win a chase. Coo Star Sivola has to be respected @ 5/1 after a good second to Kalondra over course and distance and is well handicapped but does have the look of needing three miles so if the going turns heavy, a stamina test should be in his favour. Shantou Flyer returned to his best last time but it is a big ask to reproduce that form again, the same can be said of Ultragold and Pressurize. Frodon is trapped in no man’s land, being too high in the handicap and not good enough for graded races while Drumlee Sunset, King’s Odyssey and O O Seven also need to find more. A few at prices that can go well are Potters Legend, Casse Tete and Bally Longford. Potters Legend stays further than this so testing ground will suit and he has the ability to go well if putting it all together while Casse Tete can go well if handling the track, should come on for his run at Ascot and is well handicapped based on his Sandown win in March. Bally Longford has found staying distances a stretch and his best efforts have come at around this trip on soft or heavy ground. He has course form and can go well @ 16/1.
Quite an open looking affair with, for obvious reasons and not least Nicky Henderson’s record at Doncaster, Indian Hawk heading the market. Davy Russell has been booked by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede to ride both their entries at Doncaster which is interesting and Indian Hawk looks to have plenty more to offer @ 7/2. Station Master seems to enjoy a firmer surface, will be willing the ground to dry out more and should be on the shortlist, Kim Bailey’s former point to pointer sets the standard @ . Enniscoffey Oscar, from a good family, ran well in a fair race at Kempton before an easy win at Doncaster. He can go well @ 6/1 while Samuel Jackson, another ex-pointer is also in the mix @ 8/1.
The tight turns of Kempton may just have found Bristol De Mai out in the King George but there is no doubting his ability on a galloping track when the going is soft or heavy. Having run well before at Cheltenham, the course should hold no fears this time and despite the penalty @ 6/4 he is the obvious one to beat. Course form could well be the key as the main challengers either have no experience of Cheltenham or have struggled in the past. The Last Samuri, a onetime Grand National second, has no fears staying the trip on soft ground but will he handle the undulations of the course? If he does the value could lie with Kim Bailey’s ten year old @ 5/1. American @ 5/1, still open to improvement, should not be ruled out after running flat in the Ladbrokes Gold Cup. Possibly the ground being on the quicker side was to blame and there will be no excuses regarding conditions here, but like The Last Samuri, handling this unique track is an unknown. Definitly Red’s visits to Prestbury Park have not gone to plan, falling and being pulled up on both starts since winning a bumper in 2014 while Tea For Two has also been less than convincing on his visits. That said they both have the ability to figure in this but Theatre Guide, Singlefarmpayment and Perfect Candidate look out of their depth.
Maria’s Benefit has been very impressive this season, not least her thirty length demolition of what looked a decent field at Taunton last time out. She is clearly the one to beat @ 7/4. Dusky Legend reverts to hurdles and will enjoy the better ground but has to improve plenty to get near the favourite. The Nipper, in a similar fashion to Dusky Legend, returns to hurdling and this improving seven year old could go well @ 14/1 if the ground is not too fast for her while Dame Rose struggled in the mud at Newbury last time and can be given another chance @ 10/1. She has some good novice form and the quicker conditions will suit. Dual course and distance winner Irish Roe has to come into calculations but needs to improve while Smart Talk, absent for nearly two years, would be a threat if reproducing her performance when winning this race in 2015.
An intriguing novice hurdle that has a wide open feel to it and with rain predicted, this could boil down to who handles conditions the best. There is no doubt that Nicky Henderson enters two very exciting types in Santini, who boasts strong form @ 4/1 and Pacific De Baune, chosen by stable jockey Nico De Boinville @ 13/2. Both could be anything though it may pay to go for a more ‘streetwise’ customer in what is likely to be testing ground. Mulcahys Hill showed a gutsy attitude to battle back against solid yardstick Poetic Rhythm at Newbury and presuming that effort has not left a mark, on ratings is the one to beat @ 5/1. Tikkanbar, unbeaten in both starts over hurdles, has already proved himself over course and distance in testing conditions and has to be taken seriously @ 13/2 as there is more to come from Neil Mulholland’s seven year old. Black Op should also be considered but is fitted with a tongue-tie for the first time which causes some concern while Slate House can bounce back from his run at Ascot @ 10/1 and Aye Aye Charlie and De Rasher Counter can place at big prices.
L’Ami Serge a talented individual, can be quite frustrating and often travels well before finding little off the bridle when push comes to shove. He is well treated but the 11/4 looks pretty short in such a big field, especially with the ground drying out. Mustmeetalady and Vibrato Valtat, one-two in a handicap over course and distance in December should both acquit themselves well as will Wakanda, but all three produced very near their best last time and it will take a fair effort to reproduce that again. Flying Angel is starting to look well handicapped and is interesting while Alan King has won this race the last twice with Ziga Boy and saddles Label Des Obeaux, who could go well @ 22/1. Warriors Tale should be in the mix given more improvement while Kim Bailey’s Thumb Stone Blues ran in a good handicap behind Delusionofgrandeur at Catterick and could be value @ 11/1.
Stayers’ hurdle fancy Sam Spinner’s Long Walk Hurdle form is put to the test here represented by The Worlds End and Thomas Campbell. The Worlds End travelled well last time, his effort petering out up the Ascot straight and can build on that again here, presuming he can handle conditions. Thomas Campbell has done nothing but improve and could yet make his mark at this level, the 9/1 could be value. Finian’s Oscar, sporting a tongue-tie, still has scope to improve over hurdles and has been crying out for this sort of trip though his novice form does not look as strong as it originally did. With improvement he should be thereabouts @ 7/2. Rivalling him in the market is Wholestone @ 7/2 and though he won well from Agrapart and goes well at Cheltenham, his form still has a bit to find with that of the Long Walk Hurdle contenders. There would be no more fitting winner than Beer Goggles for Kayley Woollacott but whether he can steal a march on this field remains to be seen with his penalty not helping matters.
Quickened Clear’s Best Bets:
Ballyhill – 1.50 Cheltenham – 1pt win @ 7/1
Thumb Stone Blues – 3.15 Doncaster – 1pt win @ 11/1