Three winning favourites in a row now suggests the punters may feel that have this all worked out but looking at this line up it looks anything but as clear as that suggests. Last season Village Vic (5/1) won this for trainer Philip Hobbs off a rating of 144 and he is back to try and defend his crown but has to carry an additional stone now, which won’t make things any easier. Now a ten-year-old, he has had the two runs so far this season with a second to Taquin De Seuil at Cheltenham and a third to Frodon at the same venue earlier this month which is top level form in comparison to that his rivals can offer up. He is weighted accordingly though, and will need to do even better than that to carry eleven stone eleven to success this afternoon which may be beyond him.
If you were to look for a combination popular with the betting public then trainer Jonjo O’Neill plus jockey Barry Geraghty and owner J P McManus would be pretty high up most lists, and they combine with our selection Shutthefrontdoor (20/1 Each Way) here. Well weighted on his better form, he has won off of 151 in the past and sneaks in here off 145, though to be fair he needs to do better than he has recently. Recent races have seen him unsuccessful over much further, invariably weakening late on but he could well be a revelation dropped in trip when they can make much more sue of him and it would be no great shock to see him up near the front all the way this afternoon and he could take some pegging back.
Top trainer Nicky Henderson had a few in here early, but now relies on Vaniteux (11/2)who has finished third on both his starts this season. In November he was only beaten five lengths by ex Champion Chaser Sire De Grugy at Ascot after making a bad mistake at the eighth, and he followed that with a third to Eastlake and Un Beau Roman here over two miles, giving weight to both of those in front of him, keeping on at one pace and suggesting he is well worth a step up in trip this afternoon, though others do appear to be better handicapped for now.
Harry Fry is a trainer we follow carefully and is sure to get better and better horses over the years ahead but in Thomas Brown (11/1) they have an interesting runner here who won on his seasonal return at Aintree by a length from On Tour, but failed to follow up last time when only eighth to Frodon at Cheltenham off five pounds higher and in a stronger and better contest. Never really sighted that day he finished behind both Aso and Village Vic, but is better than that and may have just had an off day, though forgiving him will take some doing under these circumstances.
Looking for another interesting runner, and there were a few bets recorded for Henri Parry Morgan (12/1) ahead of the Rowland Meyrick Chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day but they went astray when the nine-year-old unseated David Noonan five out when tracking the leasers but he may reappear quickly here looking for compensation. His overall form suggests he would be better over further but he did win a bumper over two miles back in 2012 so does have some speed and will be running on late through beaten horses assuming they go fast enough early on, of course.