Betfred Classic Handicap Chase (Grade Three)
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Always a quality staying handicap and one well worth watching as well though be warned, the last winning favourite was back in 2007 with Kerry Lee taking it last season with Russe Blanc (20/1) at odds of 20/1. Now a veteran at the age of ten, the popular grey hasn’t won in four races now, unseating in one, pulling up in two, and finishing a well beaten sixth of sixteen at Haydock last month. Admittedly, that is hardly the profile expected of a winner of a race of this calibre, but he has proved he has the stamina and the ability to handle this track and actually runs off a handicap mark of 134, which is four pounds lower than he carried to success in 2016. The truth is his stable is out of form, with just the two winners from twelve runners in the last fortnight, but they do excel with staying chasers, and at a big price there is every chance he will put up a bold show this afternoon to the delight of the crowd who have taken this grey to their hearts.
Moving swiftly on in our race preview, we far prefer the chances of One For Arthur (10/1 Each Way) who is trained by Lucinda Russell who rarely travels to Warwick and hasn’t had a runner here at all in the last five years. As for the horse, he was very impressive on his seasonal return when scoring by an easy six lengths at Kelso, and was anything but a disgraced last time out when a three length fifth to the classy Vieux Lion Rouge at Aintree, staying on strongly over the three miles two furlongs. There is a school of thought, that he was left with far too much to do that day, and that is correct. If he is ridden more positively this time around, with the added three furlongs are very much in his favour have a rock solid chance this afternoon off exactly the same rating of 137 that he almost carried to success last time out. Although the stable are only hitting a 9% strike rate, they are still showing a level stake profit which takes some doing for one of the smaller yards, and at a decent price he looks to have an equally solid chance.
Meanwhile, Nigel Twiston-Davies has Ballycross (8/1) in here and he has to have an each way chance as well. Nigel loves to send novices in to these events to take on their more experienced rivals and although he is yet to win over fences, he has some solid placed efforts to his name and won’t be far away now off what could prove to be a very lenient rating stepped up to this stamina sapping trip.
The early betting certainly seems to suggest that David Pipe’s Doctor Harper (8/1) is strongly fancied by connections, and at present he sits at the top of the ante-post market. Now a nine-year-old and the son of top National Hunt sire Presenting, he looked to be peaking at the right time with a short head second to Tour Des Champs at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day when giving the 50/1 winner two pounds and staying on strongly, and with extra 3 furlongs to travel he has every chance this afternoon of his first success since Leicester in January last year. All ground seems to come alike to him, with wins on good, soft, and even heavy, and as he has a turn of foot if needed as well as plenty of the required stamina, he looks a major player this afternoon. His trainer has a 15% strike rate here at Warwick, but the horse has had his issues and good as he is, he will need to produce a career-best year to win from his current rating.
Cotswolds trainer Fergal O’Brien continues to be in among the winners with two from his last fourteen and he has an interesting option in here with Viva Steve (11/1) who really caught the eye on his reappearance at Ayr when equipped with a tongue tie for the first time. He made all over the three miles plus that day to stay on strongly for a two and three quarter length success in November but has swerved the Welsh Grand National to wait for this event and perhaps there is a clue there if they think this track will be even more suitable. Straight after Ayr Jason Maguire, representing owners Paul and Clare Rooney was happy to talk to the press and told them that “Fergal has found a good opportunity for Viva Steve and he´s obviously improved a bit. He´s a grand horse, he galloped away and he jumped well. I´m not sure where he´ll go next, I´ll leave that to Fergal….” With the obviously improved quote the most interesting aspect, and if he does go on from his first run in over six months he seems sure to go well again here even if he will be at the front to be shot at up the home straight.
In 2013 Venetia Williams took this with Rigadin De Beauchene and is back with another French bred this year with Houblon Des Obeaux (11/1) who looks to have a decent chance despite being right up near the top of the weights. Despite being set to carry top weight of eleven stone twelve he has won off his current rating before at Ascot over three miles, but is yet to win over further than that which has to be of some minor concern. Now a ten-year-old he reappeared at Chepstow in the Welsh Grand National which was some ask after an eight-month rest and equipped himself well with a seventeen length third to runaway winner Native River who is a live Cheltenham Gold Cup contender. For some reason the handicapper has put him down a pound for that effort and with that run behind him to put him race fit this afternoon, he ought to be challenging at the business end granted a clear round and despite his hefty weight burden here.
Early market support for the Tom Symonds trained Kaki De La Pree (9/1) has not gone unnoticed with the stable ticking over nicely with one winner from five runners in the last two weeks for a 20% strike rate. Lightly raced for a ten-year-old with just the six starts over fences, he has finished third in one of them, runner up in four of them, and only scored the once at Worcester in a two mile seven-furlong novice chase in June on good to soft ground. Last time out he finished a four and a half-length second to Ballyboker Breeze at Bangor over three miles staying on at one pace on the run in and suggesting the further he goes the better now, though his trainer suggests he needs plenty of cut in the ground to give his best and punters would be best advised to await the official going before getting involved.