An interesting novices’ chase that is sure to throw up winners for some time. Last year’s victor, Bouvreuil, went within a half-length of Cheltenham festival success in one of the novice handicaps and it isn’t hard to envisage that the winner of this could be capable of playing a hand at the bigger springtime meetings.
IN SUMMARY: A relatively tight betting heat helps to show this race up as a competitive one but it’s the Nicky Henderson-trained HAMMERSLY LAKE who can gain victory before going on to contest the higher grades again. His form is rock-solid in the main and two-and-a-half miles around Doncaster on decent ground should be right up his street. Of the remainder, Cyrius Moriviere appeals as a likely threat if he can avoid making mistakes, whilst Querry Horse is the one open to more dramatic improvement at this new trip.
1 HAMMERSLY LAKE – Talented as a hurdler in his day, peaking at a mark of 145 in that code and looked a useful chaser in the making when winning at Market Rasen back over larger obstacles in August. Three runs since then have yielded a second placed finish in a Cheltenham Grade 2, when defeated 4-lengths by the useful Le Prezien, and a close-up Ascot third behind Top Notch. This contest represents a drop in grade against inferior-looking rivals and despite conceding weight, there’s a big chance of a win coming his way.
2 CYRIUS MORIVIERE – Yet to complete in two chasing starts but shaped with a lot of promise on the first of those when racing over C&D on good ground – falling after trying to chase down the front-running Might Bite, who would have won a Grade 1 since had he not come down at the last. This race is weaker to a certain degree and we can ignore his latest outing at Ludlow, where the jockey was unseated at the first. Will like going back left-handed, having jumped out that way on a number of starts over hurdles, and remains a horse of potential when getting the fencing aspect right.
3 LOFGREN – Well beaten by the 145 rated Gino Trail on his first attempt in novice chasing company when debuting for Donald McCain in November but should improve for step up in trip today and has shown he goes on the ground when trained by Enda Bolger in Ireland. His last hurdles start can be forgiven due to both the trip and going and he will come on for his chasing experience. Based on hurdles form, he is unlikely to be as classy as some others in the field and has a lot to find to trouble the favourite, among others.
4 MA DU FOU – Achieved a good level over hurdles last season, including success in a Listed contest, and posted reasonable figures on both chasing outings this term. Finished little more than 4 lengths behind The Dutchman in the first of those when racing over an inadequate 1m 7f trip and then suffered from early mistakes at Bangor last time when third to Potters Legend. Needs to brush up on his jumping to mix it with some of these but has cheekpieces on for the first time and may appreciate the likely sounder surface.
5 WINNER MASSAGOT – Looked a very talented animal in the making when comfortably winning on his handicap hurdle debut last season, a victory that led to Alan King’s charge going off as a joint-favourite for the valuable Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot. He flopped there, however, and hasn’t shown anything in three outings since. Remains just a 6-year-old, so is impossible to rule out, but finished miles behind Might Bite over C&D last month and would appear held by Cyrius Moriviere on that form. Lots to prove once again.
6 QUERRY HORSE – Hasn’t got the same level of British hurdling form as the best of these but won his sole start in France as a 3-year-old and after he won a novices’ hurdle at Market Rasen last April, jockey Jack Sherwood noted “he´s a chaser for the future so anything he does over hurdles is a bonus“. Immediately looked more talented first time up over fences when second to Max Ward in November, that despite having to recover from a bad error early on, and ran fine at Bangor since. Capable, with step up in trip interesting.