Six renewals of this race so far and not one winner bigger than 11/2 is encouraging, with two winning favourites in 2013 and 2015 so far. Brian Ellison is the only trainer to have won this more than once, so it makes good sense to start this race preview with The Grey Taylor (9/2) who represents the stable this year. Although a glance at his recent form is anything but encouraging, his stable clearly know exactly what is needed here and it is a handicap, so below par recent efforts can be balanced out by a drop in the ratings. Lightly raced over fences with just the six starts, he has won the single race at Carlisle in October 2014 and placed in the first four home on three other occasions. His close up third to Baltimore Rock in December 2015 was perhaps his best effort over fences but he is still to match his hurdling exploits over the larger obstacles. Put down another three pounds after finishing seventh to Lord Wishes at Wetherby over further last time out in October, he failed to get home that day and ought to be happier back at this two mile trip, and could yet pull off a place surprise for a stable that have been in solid form all season.
As is invariably the case for a yard of his size, Paul Nicholls has horses running everywhere this weekend with San Benedeto (10/3) his runner here and one with a solid chance. Still a youngster in chasing terms at the tender age of six, he has only had the eight races over fences winning three of them, the latest at Musselburgh last month when seeing off Witness In Court by eighth lengths despite a bad mistake that knocked him back at the sixth fence. Assistant trainer Harry Derham reported after the race “The ground is the key with San Benedeto but we were slightly concerned this would be on the sharp side. He was spot on for this race as this was good prize money and his target now will be the Red Rum Chase at Aintree” which is interesting because that was on good ground, and he seems unlikely to find things that quick come Saturday.
Next on the list has to be Katgary (7/1), a winner last time out at Perth over two and a half miles where he saw off Shadows Lengthen by seven lengths in receipt of a pound. Jockey Brian Hughes said straight after the race “Katgary handled the ground better than most and I can’t emphasise enough just how good Pauline Robson is at sweetening up a horse”, which is not only praise for his handler, but also tells everyone that he may prefer faster going than he seems likely to get come Saturday. Put up eight pounds for that victory this will obviously be a lot harder and he will need a career best, but he may just be improving and could well run in to a place if the going turns in his favour though to be fair he has won on heavy as well but may be better on quicker going these days.
With the Dan Skelton yard showing signs of a revival recently with five winners from his last thirty-six runners and at his best Workbench (6/1) would have a solid chance here as well. Five wins over fences prove he is no slouch with the latest of those at Fontwell last September off a rating of 132, after which he has been beaten three times, the latest over hurdles at Taunton when returning from a four month lay-off. Likely to strip fitter now, the fact that the yard are now in better form needs to be taken in to account, and although he will need a career best off of 134 this afternoon, that is anything but an impossibility.
Bright New Dawn (11/2) ends the preview but could sneak in to a place on his very best form. Liam Treadwell rides for Venetia Williams as the joint top weight looks to win his first race since Punchestown in April 2016 off just a single pound higher mark. he hasn’t run badly since with a string of top four finishes but they have merely kept his rating on the high side with an eighteen and a half length fourth at Chepstow in a similar race last time out and there is no obvious reason why he should do any better now.