Air Navigator was a really easy winner of a bumper on heavy ground at Haydock, and prior to that had been second in a listed race at Cheltenham. He has no penalty to carry, unlike Whatswrongwithyou, which in theory swings it marginally in the favour of Air Navigator.
But there is no substitute for experience and I’m going to stick with Nicky Henderson’s charge – just. Especially in light of the fact that he beat Ok Corral when winning at the track in January, and the latter recently won at Kempton to frank the form.
I would dearly love to see Barters Hill bounce back to form in this. He is very well handicapped on his best form and could be too good for these – but let’s not forget he’s coming back from a serious injury.
The each-way play here is King Uther – this horse is a bit of a thinker but stays extremely well.
Last year’s winner Native River is undertaking a belated seasonal experience here. This horse ran a belter in last year’s Gold Cup, and represents the best form on display.
Saphire Du Rheu was three lengths behind him in the Gold Cup and will be the one to take advantage if they doddle around, while Cloudy Dream would be a poignant winner for Ruth Jefferson after the sad death of her father Malcolm last week. He has nurtured this horse’s career, but if Native River is up to scratch he will be too good for the others.
The Game Spirit is all about Altior v Politologue and I am firmly in the Altior camp. This lad is unbeaten and I’m praying that the ground isn’t bottomless. This horse is more of a stayer than Politologue and that could be the crucial fact. Altior has not raced since his wind op and he only needs to be somewhere near his best to win this. NJH wouldn’t risk him if he wasn’t happy with him, but Paul Nicholls will be keen to expose any fitness flaws with Altior, so will be aggressive with Politologue.
The Betfair Hurdle is a race in which Nicky Henderson has a fantastic record – I even managed to win it 3 times for him!
He has five runners in the race and the yard are running a comp to see who can guess the correct finishing order – there has been a mixed bag of entries so far.
Jenkins is the no.1, with James Bowen trying to continue his rise up the ranks on this horse. Jenkins has been revitalised by the blinkers and has risen 16lbs since the win at Kempton. James offsets 3lbs of that and this horse has to be involved. The only thing to remember is he needs to be on the verge of Champion Hurdle class to win a competitive handicap off that mark. The reports are that he is flying at home and does stay well. But this is a lot tougher though with 24 of them charging round there.
There are also a few unexposed ones that tick the boxes here.
Like Lalor, who is having his first run since a wind op and is well handicapped on his bumper form. Moon Racer is another who has had a wind op and is potentially the best handicapped horse in the field. He beat last year’s winner Ballyandy at Perth last season before his season fell apart. He has had a few hiccups along the way but is a cracking each-way bet.
Kayf Grace is another who had really good bumper form and got her act together at Kempton last time. Kalashnikov is a novice who ran a blinder when second in the Tolworth. Silver Streak is a horse who is a strong traveller, and is proven in big handicaps.
In truth, you could go round in circles giving all of these some sort of chance but my idea of the first six home is:
Ben Pauling has been a little quiet lately, but feels his team are in better form now, so I’m going to take a punt on Markov to back up his very easy win at Doncaster in December.
I watched Brewinupastorm win at Hereford and was really impressed by the performance. He has to be a player here, but this is a hell of race and the best bumper this season in the UK. The market is always the best guide.