Plenty worth noting with a look at the last ten runnings and four successful favourites is a good place to start for punters. Add the fact that Nicky Henderson has won the race on four of those ten occasions (and Oliver Sherwood twice), and no winner has carried more than eleven stone three and that looks like more than enough to get started with. Just t make life easier Nicky Henderson has kindly entered just the one runner this year with Theatre Territory (16/1) who gets in here off a rating of 127 which seems about right. A point-to-point winner at Ballindenisk in Ireland she failed to break the ice in three starts in bumpers before winning a maiden hurdle at the first attempt over two miles at Uttoxeter. Three races since have perhaps surprisingly failed to yield another success with a third, a fall over this course and distance, and a fourth last time out at Sandown when twenty lengths adrift of Colin’s Sister, all of which have contributed to a handicap mark that could be very workable by his astute trainer. Making her handicap debut this afternoon, her trainer remains in good form with seven winners in the last two weeks and with the Henderson record in this race she ought to be a real livewire this afternoon with a place on the cards.
Hopefully she will have to play second fiddle behind Sister Sibyl (11/1 Each Way) who is one of the few in training with Hughie Morrison at the winter game. Just the three runs ever over hurdles have seen two wins at Towcester and Leicester and a nose second at Wincanton when mugged on the line and she looks the sort to just keep on improving. She doesn’t mind a battle and is inclined to hit the front a hurdle or more out and then repel all challengers, and off a rating of 117 this afternoon, the same as when winning last time out, she has to have a superb chance of adding yet another win to her race record with the excellent Tom O’Brien doing the steering.
Oliver Sherwood will be looking for his third win in this race courtesy of Hitherjacques Lady (10/1) who is also looking for a hat trick of her own after wins at Wincanton and Linfield, both over this sort of trip, but both on heavy going. No one can argue that she hasn’t been impressive with winning margins of twelve lengths and ten lengths and a 50% winning record over hurdles after the four starts, but she will come across very different going this afternoon as things stand, and there is a question mark over whether she will handle it. This has been her target for some time now with her trainer saying after her first win “Hitherjacques Lady is a cracking mare who is improving all the time. I suppose we will hopefully be looking at something like the mares’ final at Newbury in the spring in the long term”, and jockey Leighton Aspell reiterating that stance last tine when saying “Hitherjacques Lady is a really progressive filly – she was a nervy type early in her schooling but her confidence has grown. She will step up in grade with possibly the mares’ final at Newbury next month……” all of which has to be seen as great news for her supporters if she handles the ground.
In a race full of previous winners in may seem strange to divert attentions to Lamenter Odyssey (14/1) but trainer Harry Fry is adept at placing his horses to great effect and arrives here with four winners from his last sixteen runners for a 25% strike rate in the last two week which outdoes every other trainer in this race. The daughter of Lucano has had the four races over hurdles for a win a second and a third (plus an eighth at Warwick) including a head second last time out at Hereford when caught on the line by Lady Karina over further than today. She should be happier back at this trip but seems to need to improve again to take a hand this afternoon though with the Fry horses that is more than possible.
Trainer Alan King looks to have a very strong hand here headed perhaps by Tara View (10/1), the winner of all four starts over hurdles so far and putting her unbeaten record on the line against some pretty decent horses. She is not the sort to make anything look easy and stays on well to get to the front where it really matters. After her last win at Ludlow on soft ground her trainer said “Tara View won despite the ground as I’m pretty sure she doesn’t like it this soft. I needed to get this third run into her and she’ll go straight to Newbury next month for the mares’ final, as she looks a nice, progressive, young mare”, which must be music to her supports ears as she seems sure to get the better going she craves this afternoon and has been targeted at this valuable race with Wayne Hutchinson once again expected in the saddle.
Paddy Brennan is riding as well as ever if not better and trainer Fergal O’Brien has snapped him up to steer Wizard’s Sliabh (12/1) this afternoon as the jockey looks to add to his 12% strike rate in the past fourteen days for a small level stakes profit. The daughter of King’s Theatre (and what a sire he has turned out to be at the winter game), she was last seen finishing second to Ms Parfois at Warwick when beaten a couple of lengths but has only had the three starts over hurdles for a win at Market Rasen and two second spots and could well improve enough to threaten the places.