We kick off with a decent novices hurdle over 2m 5f and I think the horses with a run under their belt will be the ones to focus on for most of the afternoon, as fitness will be key. There is a bit of depth in here and L’Air Du Vent went through the race like a good horse at the track last time when third to Champagne Well. Kim Bailey has an interesting runner in Happygolucky who bolted up at Stratford on his seasonal debut and could have have more improvement to come.
However, Thyme Hill did us a favour at Chepstow when he won the Persian War Hurdle on his first start back, so should be a lot fitter for that and his jumping should be a little slicker. Richard Johnson’s mount gets the nod.
There’s a few ex-French horses in this who will all cope with conditions. JP McManus owns Mick Pastor and he beat Nirvana Du Berlais by six lengths last May, before the runner up went on to win the last Grade 1 for three-year-olds at Auteuil by 14 lengths last month. Mick Pastor will cope with conditions but you are guessing if Dan Skelton’s Allmankind will, even if his sire, Sea The Moon, was proven on it.
The likely favourite, Wholestone, has been disappointing in the main and got beaten again last time out, You could question his resolution over fences, but it’s interesting that Nigel Twiston-Davies will put cheek-pieces on, to sharpen him up. If they have the desired effect, he will be too good for these. Minella Warrior is the each-way play here for the Kim Bailey yard. With softer ground, he can get a lot closer to Wholestone.
If Wholestone jumps badly, Minella Warrior could capitalise.
Potters Legend will handle conditions having won a staying chase in the mud at Haydock. He had an absence to overcome but had a burn-out over hurdles when fifth here last month, to blow away any cobwebs. David Pipe will remember the days when his Dad, Martin, collected more prizes at this meeting than any other trainer. His Ramses De Teillee loves heavy ground and is a confirmed stayer, who was a good second in the Welsh Grand National.
I’ll take him to win.
I won the feature race aboard Fondmort in 2003 when it was sponsored by Paddy Power. A lot of the time you need a young, progressive type to win these competitive handicaps, but I am going off reservation a little here with an exposed chaser in Guitar Pete. He won on his reappearance at Wetherby two weeks ago and won the feature race at the December meeting in 2017. He also has solid form on soft ground is bound to have improved for his win at Wetherby.
Siruh Du Lac is one of the market leaders and regular pilot Lizzie Kelly has been passed fit to ride him and is looking forward to it. My issue is that he lacks a recent run and that has to be a negative, Slate House is a smart horse as we have seen this season, but this is a tough ask for one so inexperienced. David Pipe’s Eamon an Cnoic is another who can run well in a race where Paddy is paying the first 6 home if more than 16 runners go to post.
I’ll have Guitar Pete each-way at a double-digit price.
Tobefair is a real rags-to-riches story and it would be fairytale stuff if he was to win again. Conditions are fine and connections thought he would need the run last time but he still won. He should have improved again.
However, I have to go for Venetia Williams’ Eminent Poet. You hardly ever get a day where the word ‘heavy’ is in the going description and Venetia doesn’t have a winner. He won first time out last season and is rated just 5lbs higher on Saturday.
This is a really competitive handicap hurdle and I fancy Jacamar strongly. He ran really well two starts ago to finish third to Torpillo at Chepstow on soft ground – and is well enough handicapped to win this.
*Prices correct at time of publishing