Notre Pari is rightly favourite and I thought he won with a fair bit up his sleeve at Aintree. Trainer Olly Murphy went through a quiet patch for about five or six weeks, but he’s flying again now. Eight winners from 25 runners in the last two weeks makes for a 32% strike rate which is very good.
This horse is well handicapped and he’ll be tough to beat, but there is one in here I like and that’s Tight Call for Tim Vaughan. He’s right down the bottom of the weights, he’s running off a mark of 119. He’s had a wind operation since his last start at Market Rasen in October.
Now in hindsight that was a disappointing run, finishing fourth of six beaten by 17 or 18 lengths. But when you inspect the form of the race, it wasn’t actually that bad.
The winner that day, Honest Vic has come out and won at Kempton since and is now 14lbs higher in the ratings. The second Skandiburg has won at Aintree and Cheltenham since and is now 16lbs higher. And even the third Anytime Will Do was fifth beaten only by a few lengths in a really competitive handicap hurdle at Newbury behind Champers on Ice.
Since that run he’s been dropped three pounds to 117 and had the wind op.
Now what’s interesting is if you go back to last season, he was second to Tedham at Wincanton off a mark of 117. Tedham’s gone up seven pounds, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t rate a fair bit higher by the time the season’s out. So his form is very good.
Top Notch being the favourite looks like a good match. I know Kauto Riko was close behind Top Notch in the Peterborough Chase at Huntindon, but I don’t think there was ever any real danger of him getting caught.
Frodon is seven pounds higher, but he’s been a bit disappointing in two runs so far this year. I think winning the Ryanair Chase last season may have taken a bit out of him, and Top Notch is a bit safer.
It’s not one I’d be mad to get in at 4/5, but if you put a gun to my head I’d say Top Notch will win.
My best bet of the whole weekend comes in the shape of Sammy Bill for Olivier Sherwood.
This horse actually has three runs over hurdles without winning, but they didn’t waste any time sending him straight over fences this season – starting with a handicap of 110 – and he absolutely bolted off first time out and that was over this course and distance.
Sherwood’s yard is in decent form – he’s had four winners from 17 in the last two weeks – and I think this horse might end up in the Spring Festival yet and can rate a bit higher than 135.