Always a highly competitive three-mile novice chase but without a winning favourite in the last ten years and with winners varying in price from 85/40 (Hunters Lodge in 2013) up to 20/1 (Barafundle in 2015), so no real reason to write off anybody’s chances in 2017. Top weight American (3/1) seems a great place to start a race preview with the Harry Fry stable in good heart with two winners from the last nine runners for a 22% strike rate and better still, a level stakes profit of thirteen points in the last two weeks. Harry is renowned for carefully placing his horses to increase their chances of success and American is a great example of that with two wins from two starts this season at Exeter and Warwick, his only two starts over fences to date. After beating Label Des Obeaux first time he stepped up on that to see off the highly-regarded Champers On Ice by four and a half lengths over three miles despite a mistake at the fifteenth, and looks to have a lot more to offer as he gains in experience. After his last race, Harry told the waiting media that “American jumped for fun, but is fragile. We know we’re dealing with that and when he’s right he’s very, very good. ….. I wouldn’t rule anything in or out with regards to this season, but he needs time between his races. He’s an out-and-out galloper”, suggesting they are yet to get to the bottom of his abilities, and if there is more to come then even eleven stone twelve won’t be enough to stop him, with Champion Hurdle winning jockey Noel Fehily already booked bright and early to ride.
Popular Northern trainer Nicky Richards continues in good form with four winners from his last fourteen runners for a 29% strike rate and a small level stakes profit of close to four points. He has decided to send Baywing (9/1) here and has booked young Ryan Day to take a very useful five pounds off his back. Always held in very high regard at home, the eight-year-old has won four of his nine starts over fences including last time out when putting twenty-two lengths of daylight between himself and Calett Mad at Wetherby over three miles. Put up a ridiculous fifteen pounds for that life won’t be so easy form now on but with his jockeys claim and more improvement expected with experience, he seems sure to run a big race though there is a chance the handicapper has been over zealous and he could well struggle this afternoon.
The Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnson double act can never be underestimated and they have a live wire contender here with Rock The Kasbah (6/1), a decent enough hurdler who peaked at a rating of 152 and who has gone on to win two of his five starts over fences and placed in another two. Last time out at Chepstow he was all out to hold off Swincombe Scorchio by a length over half a furlong shorter and there is a suspicion that his stamina is in question over three miles in a truly run race. He has amazingly been put down two pounds for that win which is a bonus, but his rivals will be fully aware of his possible weaknesses and may try to make this more of a stamina test than the seven-year-old would prefer to be seen in his best light.
If you are looking for a trainer in ridiculous form then Crosspark (8/1) is the horse to be on with Caroline Bailey responsible for five winners from just the eight runners in the last fourteen days and a ridiculous 63% success rate. The horse is a seven-year-old son of Midnight Legend who has won two of his six starts over fences including last time out at Leicester when ridden by Sean Bowen, who is also due to be on board here, but interestingly is yet to win over this three miles over fences though he did finish second to Hainan at Wetherby over this trip in January when looking a bit one paced. Sean reported after her last win over shorter that “I thought Crosspark was in trouble down the back straight as he was probably travelling worst of the field, but all he does is gallop and he’s a fine jumper. There should be more improvement in him over further” which is certainly encouraging for the return to three miles here, and with his trainer presumably listening to his jockey’s views, it will be interesting to see how he gets on here.
As this is being written jockey Adrian Heskin has been touched off at Cheltenham in the Ultima Handicap but he has chances of riding another winner here on board the Tom George trained Wild West Wind (10/1) who won his first two races over fences at Wincanton (by twelve lengths) and then at Hereford (by three quarters of a length) before a third last time put to Label Des Obeaux. He has a bit to find with American on a line through the winner but didn’t jump as well as he can for whatever reason that day and ought to do a lot better now given a clear round. The three miles here is not an issue and nor is any further rain as he has won on heavy going, but he may just be a touch outclassed by one or two this afternoon and a place may be the best connections can realistically expect.