2017 one-two Vaniteux should go well again @ 9/2. Again the frustrating Theinval is short in the market and as far as place purposes go, he is a good bet but he always seems to find one too good. Another former winner is Duke Of Navan who looks back to somewhere near his best after defeating Bigmatre at Doncaster and should be thereabouts @ 6/1. Connections have waited for better ground with Forest Bihan and he has to be on the shortlist despite shouldering top weight while Ashoka and Contre Tous are capable of running big races from out of the handicap @ 20/1.
It is likely that both Defoe and Call To Mind will have bigger fish to fry as the season progresses and this will all be about which of the field are fittest. Defoe progressed well through the season before running flat in the St Leger and judging by his entry in the Tattersalls Gold Cup he may be targeted at ten and twelve furlong races. Similarly Call To Mind improved throughout last season but really relished the step up to staying trips on his last two starts. He can improve again but whether this trip may be on the sharp side remains to be seen. Danehill Kodiac won first time out last season and even with a penalty can be competitive here @ 10/1 as this sort of race is what is he is likely to be aimed at throughout the season. Autocratic steps up in trip for the first time but is not the easiest to catch right while Titi Makfi will make a bold bid from the front @ 20/1.
A very competitive novice handicap with Dingo Dollar and Barney Dwan heading the market. Barney Dwan will finally get conditions that suit and he can go well @ 13/2 while the unexposed Dingo Dollar has to be respected for Alan King but has to shoulder a fair weight for what he has achieved so far over fences. Paul Nichols saddles two in Braqueur D’Or who was fourth in the Ladbrokes Gold Cup, a definite contender @ 10/1 and Mr Mix who has a little to prove but can still go well. Similarly Keeper Hill has questions to answer following two falls on his last two starts and maybe jumping fences is not for him. Impulsive Star is interesting @ 10/1 after his fourth in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham while Ballycrystal, Progress Drive, Born Survivor and Ramonex are all worth a second look at big prices.
Gavota @ 2/1 sets the standard on two year old form and will look to continue her progression here, the form of her latest start being franked by Altyn Orda’s second in the Nell Gwyn, though she did look to need every yard of the seven furlong races she contested last year. Taajanus, who is not far behind on ratings, had a similar profile to Gavota before running flat in the May Hill at Doncaster and will aim to bounce back following her winter break. Hikmaa, with form close in behind Gavota can still progress and should be considered @ 13/2. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility for one of the lightly raced types to improve and run a big race such as Natural, All Out or Fille De Reve.
A big field and an exciting renewal of the Scottish Champion Hurdle including two previous winners in Ch’Tibello and Chesterfield with the latter definitely on the shortlist after a taking run at Cheltenham. Nicky Henderson enters three with Verdana Blue and Claimantakinforgan the likeliest winners of the trio. Verdana Blue @ 11/2 is progressive and has some good form in the big handicaps this winter and will be seen in a much better light on this much faster ground. Claimantakinforgan is a novice on the upgrade who ran a good fifth in the Supreme at Cheltenham but jumping into top handicap company is a fair test for a novice which may count against him, the same applying to Beyond The Clouds, another improving youngster. Flying Tiger is well treated and was backed heavily at Cheltenham but is looking like a bit of a ‘nearly’ horse now while Brelade and A Hare Breath can go well at bigger prices.
This is all about Expert Eye’s well being. If he repeats the form of his Vintage Stakes victory at Goodwood last August then he could comfortably swat this field aside but to come back to that level after running so badly and after a long break would be an impressive training performance by Sir Michael Stoute. James Garfield was behind Expert Eye that day at Goodwood before finishing the season with a win in the Mill Reef stakes while the free-going Hey Gaman just got touched off in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster. Both have solid two year old form and must be respected @ 11/2 and 8/1 respectively. The more progressive types and capable of more improvement are Connect, who, bar a poor run at Sandown when front-running tactics did not work looks the type to go on again and is possibly a little big @ 16/1, Fighting Irish @ 12/1 who finished the season defeating the useful Nebo at Chantily and the Raid, the once raced maiden winner for David Simcock.
The strength of the JLT at Cheltenham looks strong with both Terrefort and Finian’s Oscar both winning at Aintree and Bigmatre represents the form here. He found the trip in soft conditions at the top level just too much but should be competitive on ground he likes presuming that effort has not left a mark and could get his own way up front. Another who will enjoy the ground is Alan King’s mare Mia’s Storm, who was last seen falling at Kempton in soft winter ground. Prior to that she looked progressive over fences and should go well here but is dropping back in trip. Ardien Du Pont has found it difficult to get his head in front since winning at Fontwell in October and though he has bumped into a few good ones, he needs to improve again to be competitive here. Peregrine Run has some decent bits of form linked in with National Hunt Chase winner Rathvinden and he has to be considered @ 10/3 but needs to find a little more to challenge Mia’s Storm and Bigmatre.
On his half length second to Addeybb, Afaak @ 7/1 has major claims here, the form of that race is strong but he does have to overcome the draw as only two winners have come from high stalls in the last ten years and those were drawn twenty and twenty one. Two others drawn high to consider are Humbert, who is improving and ran well at Doncaster and Leader Writer who has some form at this level last season though whether they would want drying conditions is a slight concern. From central draws Tony Curtis and Repurcussion can go well. Tony Curtis had been highly tried and finally found his level when second in the Betfred Mile at Goowood last August, he has not been seen since though the booking of Ryan Moore shows connections are targeting this race while Repercussion ran well in the Lincoln and can go well again here @ 20/1. Mayzoun, who is not the easiest to win with but ran well last backend can go well from stall seven @ 25/1 and last year’s fourth George William did not have the best of times in Dubai but a return to his run here last spring would see him competitive, also @ 25/1.
Only one horse has shouldered more than eleven stone three pounds to win this in the last ten years and that horse was Vicente last year. He carries three pounds less this time around and should make another bold bid @ 10/1 at a meeting he comes alive at. Gordon Elliott is always to be respected and he sends the lightly raced novice Fagan, who we have not seen since October but shaped as though a stamina test would suit. Other novices to consider are Ballyoptic @ 12/1 who stays all day and looks well treated presuming his jumping holds up, Sizing Tennessee @ 16/1 who ran well in the four miler at Cheltenham and Glencairn View @ 18/1 providing he handles the ground. Of the old guard Cogry and Silsol have good form in these type of contests, Doing Fine will stay but does not win enough and The Young Master will love the ground and has dropped to a dangerous mark.
Quickened Clear’s Best Bets:
Barney Dwan – 2.20 Ayr – 1pt win @ 13/2
We have yet to see the best of Barney Dwan over fences as he has yet to race on his beloved fast ground this spring. He has optimum conditions here and following an admirable fourth in the Close Brothers Handicap at Cheltenham is sure to go well for Noel Fehily. He was second to none other than Presenting Percy over hurdles in the Pertemps just over a year ago and if producing that sort of form here has to make him a good bet @ 13/2.
Verdana Blue – 2.55 Ayr – 1pt win @ 11/2
Again the ground is a big factor in that Verdana Blue loves fast conditions and will get them here. All recent winners of this race have top handicap form and relatively few miles on the clock. Looking through the field the majority are novices or exposed types but Verdana Blue fits the bill perfectly. She produced good efforts at Ascot before struggling in deep ground in the Betfair Hurdle and now with her ideal ground has to be thereabouts @ 11/2.
The Young Master – 4.05 Ayr – 1pt win @ 16/1
A previous winner of what was the Bet365 Gold Cup chase at Sandown, The Young Master has spent the two years since struggling with his lofty mark but now has dropped to 135 which makes him very well treated indeed. Having had wind surgery he made a taking return at Cheltenham staying on nicely into sixth and that looks an indicator he is coming into form and this lover of good ground is a value bet @ 16/1.