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WESTERN ZARA looks to have been given a fair chance by the handicapper off a mark of 102 in what will be only her second handicap start. She ran with promise last month at Gowran Park when not beaten too far and the more testing ground here should play to her strengths, as she stays well. It’s a decent race for the grade, but off a light weight she should run very well.
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TOP VILLE BEN hasn’t stood much racing in the past two seasons and at first glance he would look to have plenty on his plate here carrying joint-top weight. His last three starts were a pulled up effort in a Grade 2 hurdle in France last April and he isn’t at that level over hurdles, so that can be forgiven.
He was well beaten in the Charlie Hall Chase here in October, but the decent ground would have been a huge negative for him. Last time back in handicap company in the Becher Chase, he was going nicely when taking a bad fall. However, he was showing some of his old spark.
He absolutely bolted up in this race two years ago off a mark of 154, barely having to come off the bridle and he now finds himself 4lbs lower here. He has won three times over fences at Wetherby and the ground can’t be testing enough for him, so the forecast rain between now and Boxing Day is ideal. He is a cracking bet in my eyes.
This looks an ideal race for an unexposed horse to take advantage of a pretty weak field. EMPIRE STEEL looks to be on a nice mark and is a horse that has a race like this in him on soft ground. His reappearance run should put him spot on for this contest at Wetherby and that was on much softer ground than was at Haydock that day he looks primed to run a massive race.
This is a very competitive race, although CHANTRY HOUSE looks a horse that could take a big step forward here and firmly put himself into the Gold Cup picture next year. I like siding with the younger improving horses in these types of races and Chantry House fits the bill. He is up against aging horses like Clan Des Obeaux and Frodon, who could now be on the wrong side of their prime.
Asterion Forlonge could prove a big danger if avoiding any errors, but he’s yet to prove himself as a horse to fully trust for all that I like him. Minella Indo has the best form, however he seems a much better horse around Cheltenham. The fact that they reach for cheekpieces on him suggests they’re worried about the track.
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SPYCATCHER is a pretty smart horse on the turf having finished placed behind horses like Rohaan and Creative Force in the early part of the year. Switched to the all-weather last time out at Lingfield, he was officially 8lbs wrong with Documenting. However, he made a proper race of it. With that experience under his belt and with his mark unchanged, he looks to have a massive chance of going one better here.
APOLLO TEN only has one run to his name having finished sixth in a typically strong bumper at the Punchestown festival. He got slightly hampered on the rail that day when trying to make his move, but finished out his race well when being switched out. This doesn’t look the strongest of bumpers and he should go close.
14:08 Limerick – Western Zara (Ryan McCue)
14:10 Wetherby – Top Ville Ben (Frank Hickey)
14:10 Wetherby – Empire Steel (Conor Murphy)
15:05 Kempton – Chantry House (Niall O’ Reilly)
15:35 Wolverhampton – Spycatcher (Adam Killeen)
15:35 Down Royal – Apollo Ten (Allan Byrne)
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