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Plenty of these have seen better days and indeed run in better company, but the one stand out for the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Handicap Chase is Charlie Longsdon’s five-year-old ALMAZHAR GARDE, who is firmly on the upgrade.
He has taken his time get the hang of jumping a fence, but was hugely economical at his obstacles at Kelso last time out when given a superb ride by 3lbs conditional Paul O’Brien. That win came off a rating of 127 so he needs plenty more off 135, but Gavin Sheehan takes over in the saddle and the step up to this intermediate trip on good ground looks made to measure.
Of his rivals, top weight Rocky’s Treasure is not out of it. He has dropped 8lbs in the past nine months and an end to end gallop over this distance is surely what he wants. A flat, galloping track has always been his domain and he could be worth a saver at double figure odds.
Some stats are more relevant than others when trying to dissect a big race, but this mid season highlight – technically the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase but still the Hennessy Gold Cup in my eyes – offers one of the most potent clue when delving through its history.
Since it was first run in 1957, only four winners have been senior citizens (10 and 11) while only nine nine-year-olds have won this feature event – four of those coming back to back-to-back-to-back in the mid-80’s.
And if you want to push the point even further and make it even more relevant, since the turn of the century eight second-season seven-year-olds have won this lucrative prize. Okay so enough of the stats and onto this year’s renewal. With the top four horses rated between 158 and 162, this year’s contest seems up to scratch.
But outside the winner’s age as a sign post to the possible champion this time around, perhaps the most important factor is the going with good ground guaranteed.
That is a huge negative against the sluggers that need a deep test of stamina so the ability to jump fluently at a high cruising speed could be of paramount importance. And the weird thing about this year’s entry is that a large slice of the field are best on genuinely good ground.
Such a surface suits the likes of Mister Malarkey, Cloth Cap, Ardlethen, Potterman, Danny Whizzbang, Le Bague Au Roi, Kildisart and Secret Investor.
We know good ground is much more conducive to carrying a big weight and that is one of the reasons I think that SECRET INVESTOR has major claims.
I loved the way he travelled through the race at Chepstow when he made subsequent Badger Beers’ runner-up Potterman look like a petrol-starved car and although the last named is 4lbs better off, those placings should be confirmed here.
Of course, Secret Investor will have to take another step forward off a career-high mark of 159, but ground is everything to him and he is one of the few stayers in the line-up that has a turn of foot over this kind of distance.
The ‘going’ factor also applies to stablemate Danny Whizzbang. He has twice shaped like the best horse in the race in the Reynoldstown and Kauto Star Chase, only to bottom out in the closing stages on ground he found way too testing.
However, breaking a blood vessel last time out is hugely off-putting so my back-up wager at a bigger price is MISTER MALARKEY in a race Paddy is paying the first 5 home.
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Inconsistent he is, but his talent is undeniable – which we saw to the max when he landed the Grade 3 Betway Handicap Chase at Kempton Park.
On that form there is little between himself and Kildisart, but the selection is twice the price and had a nice blow-out behind Regal Encore in the Sodexo at Ascot.
The key race to look at when assessing his chance is the 2019 renewal, when off exactly the same mark he was a respectable sixth of the 24 runners, beaten a shade over 11 lengths.
He still didn’t look anywhere near the finished product over fences that day, but since then, including the big Kempton success, his fencing has been a lot more fluent and he remains a really well-handicapped animal off only a 3lb higher mark for that win. But again, I cannot emphasise enough that ground, ground, ground is key to him.
Of the other runners, I don’t think we have seen the best of Black Op and although he doesn’t need genuinely soft ground he would prefer at least some dig, while the same remark applies to last year’s runner-up The Conditional, but he comes here without a run under his belt as opposed to a couple of warm-up races last year.
If Le Bague Au Roi came back to her Grade One winning form she would have solid claims with the ground not an issue, while Ardlethen is an interesting light weight from a yard on fire and one that hasn’t had many chances on good ground over a distance in conditions which could well be his optimum. Both are worth a second look here.
If anything the ground at Newcastle for the Rehearsal Chase will be quicker than at Newbury, which is not the norm for this time of year.
I thought that Henry Daly’s Whatmore could have been given a more positive ride in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot and I am sure we have yet to see the very best of him over a staying trip. My main problem with him is his jumping, which remains average to say the least and the fences at the Gosforth Park track are not to be meddled with.
Definitly Red has it all to do off a mark of 158 and will do well to give the weight away all round so I make this between Nicky Henderson’s Pym and THE BUTCHER SAID
So, in the belief that there is plenty more improvement to come from him and because he is the stronger stayer of the two, the Olly Murphy charge gets the nod. Two tired jumps at Cheltenham on ground way too soft for him saw him finish 20 lengths off the highly promising The Big Breakaway, but his runs on good ground strongly suggest he is much better than that.
An opening mark of 139 doesn’t do him justice and as one of the least exposed in the line-up, he can see off his more more experienced rivals on the way to better things.
Pym was pulled up in both the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot and the RSA Chases at the Cheltenham Festival, where he floundered badly. Newcastle’s better ground will suit and it is worth remembering that on good-to-soft ground, he absolutely toyed with Imperial Aura at Cheltenham in December 2019 and has the high-cruising speed to be effective over a shorter trip than Saturday’s 3m.
If he were mine I would be aiming him at the Ryanair Chase at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
Paul Jacobs’ bet summary – Saturday, November 28
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