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Just the three renewals of this race so far so very little to help us though Nicky Henderson did win it last season with Triolo D’Alene and looks likely to be represented this season with Vaniteux (Evens) who always looks as if he could go to the top but rarely repeats his sparkling homework out on the track. Despite just the two wins from six starts over fences he has been competing against the very best and may well have finished second to Douvan in the Arkle Trophy last season but for unseating Nico de Boinville two out which is very impressive form, but sadly he hasn’t really repeated that form in three races since. This season he reappeared at Ascot when put in his place by a rejuvenated Sire De Grugy beaten five lengths at the line in third place, before filling exactly the same spot behind Eastlake in a race many felt he should have won. Sent off the 5 /2 favourite that day he looked very one paced, and is well worth a try over an extra half a mile, that could yet prove to be exactly what is needed. His trainer is in good form as we all know, and has a decent enough strike rate at Kempton of 29% over the last five years and 32% over fences, both providing his followers with healthy level stakes profit. He may arrive here with a plenty to prove but is potentially a classy horse at his best though not for us until he repeats it on the race track.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls is not hitting the dizzy heights expected of his string of late, but ignoring Vibrato Valtat (5/2) would be a big mistake, as he is the one to beat at these weights according to the official ratings. Now an eight-year-old, he hasn’t won a race since November 2015 at Exeter, but he has been beaten by plenty of household names such as Sire De Grugy, Sprinter Sacre, Vautour, and Un De Sceaux, and it seems fair to say that he meets nothing of that calibre this afternoon. He was last seen finishing last of six at Sandown in the Tingle Creek Chase in first time cheek pieces which may well have hindered his chances, with jumping errors putting pay to any chance he may have had early in the race. He does need to do a little bit better than that to succeed this afternoon, but there is little doubt that his astute trainer will have moved mountains if necessary to try to get him back to his best, and if he succeeds then the gelding has a great chance of another success.
Trainer Neil Mulholland has chosen this race for the return to action of the well-regarded Activial (11/2), who won on his only start at this track. Decent enough over hurdles, he peaked at a rating of 147 and has already matched that over fences, that still leaves him a few pounds short of the required standard to win a race like this. He was last seen in action at Newbury over a fraction short of three miles, so his stamina is not in question though whether a third place to Out Of Sam is anywhere near good enough to compete against the horses already mentioned is a moot point and he will need to improve considerably. That said he’s only just coming out of his novice season and has more room to improve than most, but good as his trainer is, winning a race of this calibre after 336 days off may be beyond him with his race fitness obviously in question.
Quite By Chance (8/1) is another runner who looks as if he ought to be outclassed, but then again he is trained by Colin Tizzard, who can do little wrong this season and is invariably responsible for at least one televised winner on a Saturday! According to the handicapper the eight-year-old gelding needs to find at least seven pounds to even get competitive here, but a place could yet be on the cards. He has won already this season at Ascot over two miles and a furlong by six lengths in October and has a length and half second to Sire De Grugy on his CV as well when he finished in front of Nicky Henderson’s Vaniteux, but has suffered since being stepped up to this kind of trip with fourth to Frodon at Cheltenham and a sixth to Shantou Flyer at the same track, both over two miles five. He does seem equally happy on good or softer ground, and has won over this trip at Wincanton, but looks to have a bit to find for the moment and others have stronger claims.