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Just four renewals so far of this three-mile handicap Chase that looks set to be run on good to soft going which may well help any horses struggling for the required stamina to get home at this relatively easy track. Just the one winning favourite in that time but two winners for trainer Philip Hobbs and jockey Richard Johnson who combined in 2016 with 5/2 favourite Kruzhlinin (11/2) who is all set to try to defend his crown this season. Now officially a veteran at the age of ten he appears to have lost none of his vigour as we saw last time out when he won over two miles seven furlongs on heavy ground at Haydock, though that victory has seen his rating put up by ten pounds which will obviously make his life a little tougher. The good news is that last season he won this race off a rating of 138 but he has to carry an extra eight pounds now but arrives at the top of his game and must have every chance. His record on the expected going (good to soft) is as good as any horse in the field and with everything in his favour once again, he ought to take a good deal of beating here.
It may seem a bit boring to keep mentioning Nicky Henderson has a rock solid strike rate both recently and all season and on top of that, is surprisingly showing a healthy level stake profit and will look to add to that with top weight Volnay De Thaix (7/1). The French bred eight-year-old has won here over two miles over hurdles and arrives with precious little experience over fences and just the five starts for one victory and one second place. Comparing hurdle form with chasing form is never perfect but it may yet be relevant that he was rated as highly as 158 over the smaller obstacles yet runs this afternoon off just 150 over fences, the implication being that there could yet be a bit more to come. Last time out he was reappearing after a summer off at Huntingdon in the Peterborough Chase when last of five but that was a very classy race with the four in front of him including Champion Chaser Dodging Bullets so it may not be as bad as it looked at first glance, though he will need to brush up on his jumping which fell apart that day though he seems sure to have been extensively schooled since at Seven Barrows.
Back to everyone’s favourite trainer Colin Tizzard next and who knows how much more improvement he can get out of Sandy Beach (9/2). Previously classed as reasonable with wins over fences at Taunton and Chepstow over two miles seven in December 2015 and two miles in March last year he reappeared for this season at Newbury in a Class Three handicaps and instantly posted a career best with an eight length defeat of Ericht over two and a half miles in early November and although he has been rested since, there is every chance this is now the plan. When spoken to straight after the race trainer Colin Tizzard said “Sandy Beach had good form in the middle of last season and then got in a bit of a muddle, but he´s got tremendous scope. I don´t know where he´ll go next, but he can win from two and a half miles to three miles and I´ll see if there´s something back here at the Hennessy meeting”. He obviously missed that target but the comment about scope caught the eye and off a rating eight pounds higher he may still have every chance with improvement almost guaranteed.
Chill Factor (12/1) did well for himself on his return as well, winning narrowly at Fontwell in May after being hampered but showing plenty of heart to rally and score by half a length. Sure to improve for that experience he is another lightly raced contender after just the four starts over fences but sadly the Anthony Honeyball stable are struggling for winners with none in the last two weeks from just four runners which has to be more than a little off putting regarding his chances.
Lastly for now we have Dan Skelton’s Abricot De L’Oasis (11/1) who sits down near the bottom of the weights and will be ridden by Harry Skelton. The yard have gone from superstars to ticking over lately with just the 12% strike rate but the horse looks to be improving and has a 57% success rate on the predicted good to soft going. That is the good news, but on the down side he has weakened badly on his only two attempts at this sort of trip and may yet be better over two and a half miles or so instead. Having said that, he did stay on strongly last time out over two and a half miles to be beaten a head at Leicester off the same rating over hurdles as he has to work from now, but if they go as fast as expected here his stamina may still be put under too much pressure as he takes a rise in class.