This was originally meant to be a Cross Country race but due to firm ground on the dedicated track, it has been replaced by a Veteran’s Handicap chase with an attractive lineup. Open to horses aged 9 years and older, it’ll be run on the Old track with Good ground expected.
Top weight Shuil Royale (4/1) has a mark of 149, six pounds higher than his Aintree win just under three weeks ago. That was in a similar race to today, and he took it impressively despite blundering 3 out. His jumping aside from that error was solid and given his previous form (a second and a win on his two starts before that) he looks to be continuing to improve despite his advanced years.
Others come here off lengthy breaks, the most interesting of which appears to be Bennys Mist (12/1 Each Way). He may have struggled in the Topham Chase last time out but previously to that in ran well in competitive races, including a second place in a valuable Grade 3 at Newbury over 2m 4f. His mark is at a career high 146 (one pound higher than Newbury) but he’s running well currently and looks like excellent each way value in the circumstances and should prove very difficult to keep out of the frame in this fascinating contest.
The third coming here off a break is Astracad (7/1), who has previously won over both course and distance, although he isn’t a Course & Distance winner. Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, he’s been in poor form his last four runs, being well beaten in each. His mark is now down to an attractive 130 as a result of that, two pounds lower than his last win which came at Chepstow over approximately this distance. He’s a Cheltenham regular but has had little luck here – two wins, three seconds and a third from 23 runs, and the last of those wins came back in December 2011.
Ericht (7/1) is another with plenty of Cheltenham experience, having run here 11 times. He has yet to win a race here or even finish runner up though, with just two thirds to his name. His form hasb een extremely patchy throughout his career and while he finished second at Newbury last time out, that was only a Class 3 and he was no match for the winner, beaten 8 lengths. Pulled up on two of his last four starts, including at the Festival in the Kim Muir Challenge Cup, he’s not one to put too much faith in.
Gordon Elliott won the Poplar Square Chase last week with Tell Us More, and sends over Realt Mor (7/2) for a shot at the £15,640 first prize. A winner just seven days ago over the minimum trip at Down Royal, he won as he liked off a mark two pounds lower than he runs of in the UK. He was a non completed on his two starts prior to that, falling in the Kerry National – the fact he was run in a race over 3 miles on heavy ground suggests the tough 2 mile 4 furlong trip here shouldn’t be a problem. He was rated as high as 150 following a Grade 1 win at Fairyhouse in March 2013, but has proved inconsistent since then. His trainer has reported that he’s “had a lot of problems” so a quick turn around time may be an issue.
Eastlake (12/1) is another horse owned by J P McManus, but this time trained by Jonjo O’Neill. Carrying one pound less than top weight, he was pulled up at Aintree last time out in the Class 2 event Shuil Royale took home. He was well fancied in the market that day, being sent off at 8/1, mainly due to his Topham Chase win back in April. That was off six pounds less than he runs off today, but he stayed on all the way to the line over 2m 5f suggesting today’s trip and the Cheltenham hill could suit him nicely. Expect him to improve with a run under his belt as he has a poor record fresh recently.
Lastly, Dunraven Storm (12/1) has been dropped three pounds for two poor runs in competitive races, but prior to that was in fine form. He was sent off joint favourite for a Class 2 event over 2m 2f at Kempton, winning by 5 lengths and staying on all the way to the line, and is now just two pounds higher than that win. Last season, he ran poorly first time out before running well at this track three weeks later over the minimum trip. He does have to prove his stamina though, with the extra distance as well as the Cheltenham hill to contend with.