A qualifying race for the big final at the Cheltenham Festival, these races are always intriguing with qualifying more difficult now than in the past. Find our expert tip and free runner by runner guide below.
IN SUMMARY: Thirteen go to post in what looks a typically competitive staying hurdle. Call To Order looks the ‘obvious’ starting point having been so impressive stepped up to this trip last time. Whether a sharp right handed track will suit as well as a galloping left handed one and the question of the cheek pieces working as well the second time mean that he is priced plenty short enough. Knock House is a fascinating contender at a huge price given a 2/2 record at the track. If the tongue tie can sort out his breathing issue when pulled up at Doncaster last time, he is massively overpriced. A safer vote though is the quickly improving EL TERREMOTO who has looked much improved now that he is handicapping. A third behind Clyne last time reads really well in the context of this race and he could prove better still given this step up in trip.
1 VOLNAY DE THAIX – Connections understandably bring their charge back over hurdles as his confidence looks shot over the bigger obstacles. Topweight in the last two runnings of the Coral Cup at the Festival, he again has to shoulder that burden here. Eight pounds lower for those two runs is conceivably fair if the old ability remains but three miles has appeared to stretch his stamina in the past so despite the sharp track, that has to be a serious question.
2 AUBUSSON – Another back over hurdles after struggling to fulfil his potential in chases. Announced himself on the scene winning a Grade 3 ‘Fixed brush’ handicap at Haydock in November 2014, running in warm company since both in the UK and France. This is a ease in grade despite the four pound higher mark he still carries for that victory. His very best form has come with plenty of cut so conditions are likely to put more of an emphasis on speed than is ideal.
3 WHATAKNIGHT – Scooped a big pot for connections at Haydock in May. Despite being described afterwards by trainer Harry Fry as “a real chaser for next year” he hasn’t looked a natural in two starts over fences. Turned over by the horse he beat into second at Haydock the first time, he was left with nothing to beat when his closest rival fell four from home at Hereford. Decent ground is in his favour while a mark six pounds higher than Haydock looks perfectly reasonable on that five length win.
4 WOTZIZNAME – Not disgraced in what became a match at Aintree on his seasonal return when beaten by the 149 rated Arpege D’Alene. Described in despatches as “hugely exciting” and “a horse we can dream about” he doesn’t exactly look thrown in on his handicap debut but with just three runs under rules to his credit, the potential for further improvement is there. This is a deep race to make an impact in and the market may be the best guide to his chances.
5 EL BANDIT – Rattled up a sequence in 2016, winning five on the spin from April to October. Those wins came up to 2m5f on decent ground, the combination of a three mile trip and soft ground looked to be his undoing at Newbury last time. This sounder surface will be more to his liking but having hung badly left at Taunton when tried right handed in the past, the suitability of both the track and trip are big question marks hanging over his head.
6 CLONDAW CIAN – On occasions looked a really smart novice last season but had a few poor performances along the way. Much the same story this season, making an impressive handicap debut at Cheltenham in November before getting beaten out of sight at Warwick. A slip on landing at the 9th exaggerated the distance beaten but he was on the retreat anyway at that point. His wins have both come on soft ground so this surface will be a question mark for him but this trip should suit.
7 KNOCK HOUSE – Donald McCain took a chance paying £110,000 for this horse at the sales last May but has had just the one run from him when pulled up on his seasonal return. He was reported to have a breathing problem on that occasion with a tongue tie fitted for the first time here. This will be his first run over hurdles in almost three years, since down the field behind Faugheen in the Neptune at the Festival. He is however a perfect 2/2 at Huntingdon and is conceivably well treated off a mark of 136 if the breathing problem is as easily fixed as a tongue tie.
8 DEBDEBDEB – A progressive stayer on the flat in 2014, winning over a mile and six furlongs at Sandown, she was campaigned over just two miles in the early days over hurdles. She made up good ground on the uphill run for home at Cheltenham when last seen over two and a half so connections step her up in trip to three miles plus for the first time. She has a career high mark to adjust to but on the pick of her flat form she may cope with this mark if her stamina holds out.
9 EL TERREMOTO – Adaptable type who followed up a 2m6f win on good with a 2m3f win on heavy. Strong at the finish on both occasions suggest that this trip could be within reach. He was outpaced back at 2m3f last time at Haydock but the winner of that contest, Clyne, gave The New One a scare at the same track last weekend so the form reads well. Fundamentally flat bred but his grand dam was a half sister to a chase winner over 3m1f at Cheltenham so there is stamina there. If he gets home, this progressive youngster looks a very strong contender.
10 KELVINGROVE – His finishing effort has left a little to be desired in both starts over three miles this season but connections reach for a tongue tie in a bid to rectify the problem. In front of El Bandit at Newbury last time despite being reported to have lost both hind shoes, he travelled well through that contest. His last win came this way round at Market Rasen on good ground so has conditions in his favour and he looks an each way player.
11 ROLING MAUL – Struggling for respite from the handicapper since a win at Bangor last summer. He was midfield in the final of this race at the Cheltenham Festival last season and looks the likely pace angle to the race. Described by his trainer Peter Bowan as “quirky but very talented” he is well enough treated to get his head back in front if on a going day but he has just one win from eleven tries at class 2 or above and may find this a little too competitive.
12 BALLYCULLA – Better known as a staying chaser these days, sent off favourite for the four mile Eider chase at Newcastle last February. This will be his first start over hurdles since April 2014 and despite this being his lowest mark since winning at Ffos Las in November 2013, it’s hard to make a solid case for him in what looks an attempt to give him some confidence back.
13 CALL TO ORDER – Very impressive in first time cheek pieces at Cheltenham in December. He still looked a bit of a baby on the run-in, having a look around him so there is likely to be plenty more improvement in the tank. A seven pound rise up the weights is unlikely to be enough to stop him if in the same heart again but this is a very different track and he is plenty short enough in what is a deeper contest,