The ITV racing this week starts with a three-mile handicap hurdle that has been taken by just two favourites in nine runnings over the last ten years (the meeting was lost in 2009), but with double figure winners in the last two years with Bygones Sovereign at 12/1 in 2015 for David Pipe, and Count Guido Deiro at 11/1 for Nigel Twiston-Davies last season. Nigel is the only trainer to have doubled up in the last decade (he also won with Master Of The Sea in 2013), and he is represented by Scotchtown (7/2) this season as the five-year-old looks for his third win of the season following earlier victories at Wetherby and Ludlow over shorter and in novice hurdles. Stepped up in trip to two miles seven at Bangor he was beaten a neck at odds on before trying handicap company for the first time at Warwick last time out over three and a quarter miles when a length and a half second behind Tobefair, who he meets here on four pounds worse terms now. That run suggests he will need to improve again if he wants to take a hand this afternoon as he begins to fill out his massive frame and others appeal slightly more.
At this stage Tobefair (10/3) heads the betting which is easy to understand as the seven-year-old looks to win his seventh race in a row, all of them in handicaps. Trainer Debra Hamer has a star on her hands and deserves plenty of credit for finding races he can win as he has gone up in the weights from 81 in June 2015 to 126 last time out in January, a quite dramatic improvement of 45 pounds, but is there still more to come. Put up another eight pounds (which seems harsh), it seems as if the handicapper has had enough of his victories but you never know how good a horse is until they are beaten and they may have one more victory in him yet. Trainer’s husband Paul Hamer said after his last race “The handicapper gave Tobefair a chance in the beginning, but he was big and backward and so laidback early on. I didn´t think he´d make a hurdler but he´s proved me wrong. We´ll school him over fences next season – that´s where his future is – but we´d love to go to Cheltenham” suggesting he will be a beast next season in novice chases, but if he wins here he may well get in to one of the big handicaps at Cheltenham which appears to be their short-term target.
Staffordshire trainer Jennie Candlish is far from a household name as yet but she has a decent looking sort in Bryden Boy (15/2) who was very impressive when winning by five lengths from Bourne over this trip plus at Ayr last time out in mid-January. Sadly, the handicappers were equally impressed and have put the gelding up ten pounds, but there is every chance he had that much left in the locker if called upon. Jockey Sean Quinlan gets on particularly well with the seven-year-old and will hopefully be in the saddle once again, as they look to double up despite a big rise in class, though supporters should be aware that the stable have had ten runners with zero winners in the last two weeks.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has two in here with Sam Twiston-Davies riding Red Hanrahan (7/1) which suggests he is the stable number one. Last seen pulling up at Sandown in April 2016 over two and a half miles this will be the six-year-old’s first try at three miles but then again he is a son of Yeats suggesting stamina ought to be his strong suit. Prior to that run had had scored by seen lengths at Fontwell over a little shy of two and three quarter miles and he needs to do a lot more off a rating of 130 especially after such a long lay-off but the stable have all the facilities a trainer can dream of and will have him as race fit as they can ahead of his eagerly anticipated reappearance.
With Colin Tizzard the man of the season so far and Aidan Coleman having great season as well it would be remiss to ignore distance winner Morello Royale (12/1) who could also get involved on a good day. Admittedly she hasn’t won since November 2015 which was off a rating three pounds lower but she has been competing against far better horses in general against the likes of Polly Peachum and Vroum Vroum Mag but last time’s last of seven over short (beaten fifty lengths) does not bode well for her chances here and she will need to bounce back big time to take a hand this afternoon.