Just the nine renewals of this race but trainer Philip Hobbs has won five of those and clearly targets horses here knowing exactly what is required to take home the first prize. This year he had an entry but he has been pulled out so we need to look elsewhere for the winner. Harry Fry is as good as it gets among the next generation of trainers and he has Henryville (7/1 Each Way) in here to carry top weight and we think he can win despite the steadier of eleven stone twelve under the excellent Noel Fehily. He has a fitness advantage over some of his rivals having finished fourth to Potter’s Cross at Chepstow at the beginning of this month. That was over a fraction shy of three miles and he was only beaten five and a half lengths at the line despite hitting a couple of fences and as he will have been extensively schooled at home since and will strip fitter here, there is every chance he will improve again and take this to start our afternoon off with a winner.
Paul Nicholls is off to a blistering start to the season and has decided to rely on Keltus (7/1) who has won or placed in eight of his ten starts over fences including a half-length victory at Fakenham over three miles last time out. He stayed on strongly that day to hold off any challengers and had a bit up his sleeve at the line, but an extra four pounds from the handicapper this afternoon won’t make his life any easier and in our view this is a much stronger race.
Whether the price about Nicky Henderson’s Full Shift (7/1) is about his ability and chances or the fear factor of any runner owned by J P McManus is open to question, but either way he sits near the top of the market and has Barry Geraghty in the saddle in a return to the good old days. He has only had the six races over fences, winning one of them over two and a half miles at Kempton on Boxing Day and this will be his first try at three miles plus after twelve career starts including hurdles. He did win a point to point over this trip so it is equally possible that he will improve for the stamina test, but the truth is he is yet to prove his stamina in this sort of class or in public under rules, and we feel a watching brief may be the more sensible option for the moment at least.
Any Currency (16/1) loves it around here and is more often seen in the cross country chases these days but he did win here last time out over three and a quarter miles in April and has been put up a silly nine pounds for that effort. At the age of thirteen he seems sure to be past his very best, and asking him to win this after six months off may be a dream too far but his record around here of two wins and seven places suggests he is no back number and should run well regardless.
Naturally, in a race of this value there is a long list of serious rivals and with Nigel Twiston-Davies in such good form (48% strike rate as we write), how about the nicely weighted Cogry (9/1)? Naturally, we will get a better idea of his true chances when we speak to Nigel on Friday morning for his exclusive MyRacing article but no harm in having a look in advance for ourselves. Two wins from just the ten starts suggests he has plenty of room for improvement with more experience and better still, he is a mere baby in chasing terms at the age of seven. Third in his last two starts at Warwick and Uttoxeter with a one-paced effort over to and a half miles and then a five length place to Firebird Flyer in the Midlands Grand National over four and a quarter miles, so we can be pretty confident he won’t be short of stamina over this trip. What we did note was that all his wins over hurdles or fences have been on ground with plenty of give in it (two on soft and two on heavy), and as things stand that seems pretty unlikely to be the case this afternoon unless the weather changes dramatically (update – Nigel has confirmed he would prefer a bit more rain to enhance his chances).