A relatively new addition to the racing calendar with just the three runs so far and punters are still awaiting the first winning favourite after victories at odds of 8/1, 7/1, and 4/1 so far in it’s brief history. Robin Dickin took it last year but isn’t represented this season though Paul Nicholls, who took it in 2015 with Rebel Rebellion will be hoping for a big run from Warriors Tale (7/1) who arrives here in good sorts having scored last time out over this course and distance when seeing off Gala Ball when making all the running for an easy enough eleven length success. He has been put up seven pounds for that effort which will clearly make life more difficult from now on, and with the victory coming in a three horse race in a slow time, the handicapper looks to have over reacted. He did jump well in the main that day barring a mistake two out and will take some catching if sent off bright and early for a game of “catch me if you can”, but with the stable still ticking over nicely with a 9% strike rate (remembering that includes a poor Cheltenham for the stable), he has a half decent chance. After that race his trainer said “I did fancy Warriors Tale in that small field as he could bowl along and jump them into the ground. He’s a nice horse who jumps and gallops and Sean (Bowen) said whatever I do enter him in the Topham”, so if he does come here either instead of or as well as Aintree it must be for good reason and he deserves his place in any race preview.
The selection here though will be Ut Majeur Aulmes (20/1 Each Way) who runs here for trainer Victor Dartnell who is more than capable of getting his horses to win races given the right ammunition. Now a nine-year-old, the early booking of jockey Nick Scholfield caught the eye and suggests they mean business, and at his best he has an excellent chance this afternoon. Three wins and eight places over fences isn’t a bad record at all and he signed off last season with wins here at Newbury and then at Newton Abbot but is yet to win this season. A fifth last time out when beaten twenty-one lengths at Warwick has seen connections push him up in trip to the two and a half miles this afternoon, and if it brings improvement as expected then he can come home in front and land the bets this afternoon.
Looking at the statistics for this race and Michael Easterby heads the percentages with a 33% strike rate in the last two weeks, though to be fair that figure comes from one winner from just the three runners. He is still as shred as he ever was and has entered Shadows Lengthen (22/1) here who looks to have each way possibilities. Last time out the eleven-year-old, who is now in the twilight of his career and eligible for the Veterans races, finished a respectable enough third to Kalane in what looked a weaker race than this in early December. He will need to do a lot better than that this afternoon off a rating two pounds lower and needs to recapture his youth when successful at Wetherby off a rating of five pounds more than this, though to be fair that does seem more than unlikely despite his trainer’s excellent form.
After two good wins in a row, the first at Exeter over two miles and the second at Wincanton over two and a half, the Robert Walford trained Walk In The Mill (10/1) looked to be a horse going places over fences until they stepped him up in class at Cheltenham when he flopped badly behind Foxtail Hill when finishing a forty length last of the nine to finish in the Grade three Barbados Trophy Handicap back in late January. Whether it was the added twelve pounds from the handicapper for his last win or the exalted company (or more likely a combination of both) will be found out this afternoon as he reverts to the class many feel he really belongs in, The decent rest may well help his chances this afternoon as will the one in four strike rate for his stable from their limited resources, but the handicapper has left him on exactly the same rating which seems slightly harsh, and a watching brief may be the sensible option for now to see if he can cope with his career high handicap mark.
As mentioned elsewhere, the Tom George/Adrian Heskin combination continues in good form and they will team up once again here with O Maonlai (7/1), a nine-year-old who has won two of his twelve starts over fences, and one of the four attempts this season here at over two and three quarter miles in late November. Prior to that he was pulled up at Aintree a fate that befell him again the race after at Haydock though that was up against the big guns in the Peter Marsh Chase won by Bristol De Mai. Earlier this month he finished fourth over this course and distance behind Thomas Crapper but was forty-eight lengths adrift at the line, and off the same rating this afternoon he arrives here with a bit to prove, stable and jockey in form or not.