One of the few races each year where age is a virtue as the older generation go to battle over the stiff three miles and with a minimum age of eleven now that every horse has celebrated their birthday on January the first. As you would expect in a competitive handicap, the early odds are more than generous, though they also point to the fact that finding the winner will not be easy. So far the race has only been run once and was won by David Pipe’s Soll, so common sense suggests we start with his entry this year and it looks like Tom Scudamore will be on board Dynaste (15/2) who is sadly a shadow of his former self. At his best he would pick these up and carry them and if they can find a way to rejuvenate him he will go well. Back in 2014 the son of legendary sire Martaline was winning races off of ratings as high as 169 when he took the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival by two and a quarter lengths, but sadly that was his last victory and he has had fourteen losing starts since though he has placed in five of them. Last time out he finished a thirty-two length seventh to Gas Line Boy at Kelso but has at least been dropped five pounds for that effort, and is worthy of some small consideration just in case he bounces back off his new rating.
The same Gas Line Boy (10/1 Each Way) was understandably trading as the early favourite after that victory and deservedly so, though he has been put up nine pounds which many would see as harsh, and he will need to improve again to take a hand here. Although that was his first win since December 2014 he did it very easily indeed on the day and at a double figure price he really does look to be excellent each way value in our view and may have even more to offer.
Rocky Creek (10/1) has always been held in high regard at the Paul Nicholls yard, and may yet have another crack at the Grand National even at his age, but more importantly he’s in good form having won last time out here at Sandown over three furlongs further. His record at the track is decent enough with a win a third and a fourth from just four starts, but he has been put up a punitive four pounds for that victory, and will need to improve accordingly. It needs to be noted that he has won off of higher marks in the past, and his supporters will be relieved to know that they are not asking any more of him than he has already achieved.
Back to our old friend Harry Fry next and he has one of the few twelve year olds in this race with top weight Shuil Royale (16/1) who has to carry eleven stone twelve. Despite his age he has already won two of his four starts this season, one each at Newton Abbot and Aintree, the last of them in October when he put five lengths of daylight between himself and his pursuers. He did need to be driven out all the way to the line to score that day, and was carrying a much lighter weight than he has to suffer here, and good as he is that could be asking a touch too much, and a place may be more realistic than a victory.
On Friday morning we will be talking to our partner Nigel Twiston-Davies and it will be interesting to hear his opinions on Astracad (20/1) who has already won five starts over fences including one this season at Cheltenham over two and a half miles plus. The three-mile trip here could yet be the issue as he is never won over this far or even tried this trip or similar, but he has stayed on strongly over shorter and at the age of eleven they are running out of time to give him a try before his well-deserved retirement. Last time out he was a five length second to Hollywoodien who runs earlier on the card and will or won’t frank the form, but either way he does have an each way squeak and Nigel will confirm that (or not) when we chat on Friday.
Loose Chips (20/1) has an awful lot to find with Rocky Creek on December form here but is the only course and distance winner in the field, and thus worthy of a passing mention. Trained by Charlie Longsdon he took a Class Two handicap here in November by a battling half a length from Court By Surprise and was put up just two pounds by the handicapper before a thirty-eight length seventh of thirteen back here over 3 furlongs further when weakening rapidly three fences from home. Whether that was his true form or an inability to stay is open to question, but the fact that connections are happy to take on his conqueror here suggests the latter, and at a big price he may yet land his followers their each way bets.
Interestingly, and our last horse for our early race preview, Paul Nicholls has a second entry here in the shape of Aerial (11/1) who will be ridden by claiming jockey Jordan Williams who is good value for his seven-pound claim having ridden the horse to victory at Fontwell over three furlongs further in November. Admittedly this is a much stronger contest (on paper at least) and he was put up eight pounds for winning that Class Three prize, but you can never ignore any runner coming out of Ditcheat and he’s yet another entry who could threaten the places at the very least this afternoon.