Race Time: 1.05pm Meeting: Cheltenham Day: Friday 13th November
Distance: 1m 7f 199yds Full Race Name: Paddy Power Handicap Chase Class Two
The roll call for this race over the past ten years sees a monopoly from the big yards with Nicky Henderson (three), Philip Hobbs (two), Paul Nicholls, Jonjo O’Neill, Charlie Egerton, and David Pipe all taking one each, and only Nigel Hawke breaking the mould in 2013 with Anay Turge. One 14/1 shot and the rest at single figures (three of them favourites) suggest that come the overnight declarations the betting may yet hold sway, but for now we can look at all of the twenty one declarations to see what we think. With half of those yards conspicuous by their absence in 2015, David Pipe finds himself responsible for the early favourite with La Vaticane (7/2), which is interesting to put it politely. Although he has won two chases out of two when trained in France, his only run for the Pipe yard was when runner up to The Inval at Kempton over hurdles, and as that was over two miles and five, we have to wonder if he will have the speed for this two mile trip today, especially with good to soft going predicted and all his best runs on very soft or heavy going at Auteuil and Pau. He could, of course, make fools of his handicap rating here, and is ultra consistent having finished in the first three in his last five races but at the price we need a bit more convincing that he is value in a competitive race, and there may be others with equal or better chances.
Meanwhile, John Spearing and jockey Jamie Moore are teaming up with Pearls Legend (8/1) who ran an absolute blinder on his seasonal return when runner up to Cold March at Ascot. Sent off at odds of 10/1 that day, the market suggested he may well need the run and so it proved as he made a couple of minor errors while trying to keep up before fading late on to be beaten seven lengths. He own a couple of races at Sandown off lower mark last season which looks good when it comes to the uphill finish here today, but will still need a career best effort to win off of his latest mark, but at the age of eight we think that is more than a remote possibility, and he is going to be our selection here.
Those looking for a horse with a great chance of a place could do a lot worse than Neil Mulholland’s Minella Present (15/2), and after a recent run we can take his fitness on trust. He has finished in the first three in all his chases to date, BUT that has been in very small fields, and we have no evidence that he can reproduce those sort of efforts in bigger, and we feel better fields like today’s.
Venetia Williams is a trainer who is more than capable of pulling off a shock with long absent challengers, and we like her training methods that work long term if not instantly, so we will be watching the efforts of The Clock Leary (11/1) with a great deal of interest. He has had the grand total of two runs over fences, hacking up at Ascot (admittedly over further) before weakening at Newbury over this sort of trip, though whether that was his true running is hard to guess on the grounds that we haven’t seen him since and he may have been injured? If this race was over two and a half miles we may have been sorely tempted as an each way option, but it isn’t and we cant see him having the speed to bother some of these on his first race back after so long without competition to sharpen up his senses.
One last horse to round things off and Majala (33/1) may not look too exciting by a glance at his form figures, but he doesn’t carry top weight here without good reason. Pulled up on his last two runs at Chepstow and Perth he seems to have fallen a bit out of love with the game but Tom George will see that as a challenge and if anyone can get him back to his best, he is the man, though softer ground would be a definite bonus.