Saturday 28th February, 3.10pm, Doncaster, 3m 110y, live on Channel 4
A maximum of seven runners will see each way punters turn away in disgust (you only get paid out on the first two home), but those who are bothering are a classy little bunch with less than a stone between top weight and bottom.
Top weight Cantlow has a first time tongue tie which can help with their breathing but he hasn’t won since November 2013 and that was over fences – we have to go back to 23rd February 2011 for his one and only win over the smaller obstacles. Having written him off so easily A P McCoy has ridden him on three of his four wins and is on board again here, and we all know you can never write him off. I just feel he is being asked a bit too much, though he could be considered reasonably weighted in comparison to his best chasing form. At 7/1 with Betfred you might be tempted at an Each Way bet but as mentioned the 2 places is rather off putting.
Running down the card, Al Co is a course and distance winner which is a good thing – but hasn’t been seen since pulling up at Aintree in the Becher Chase, and before that he was last of eleven at Haydock which hardly inspires confidence. He is another who is better handicapped over hurdles than fences but as he holds a Grand National entry this may be little more than a glorified prep race? A best price of 33/1 with Bet365 suggests the bookies definitely think so.
Call The Cops is of far more interest for trainer Nicky Henderson and has won at Towcester and Ludlow over hurdles but was then off for a while before an acceptable if not earth shattering return when fourth at Kempton behind Brother Brian. Put up a pound for that run, he ought to strip fitter here but is another who seems tricky to train and most would prefer to see a win against his name before risking their cash.
Stopping at the fourth horse in the weights, Batavir is the one expected to win this and perhaps the most likely to do so as well. He’s been installed at 7/4 favourite with Betfred, but he’s as short as 11/10 with PaddyPower.Trained by David Pipe, he has already picked up a couple of races at Ascot and Wincanton and is very much going the right way since being brought over from his native France. The step up in trip seems to have worked wonders for the son of Muhtathir who is thought to be ahead of the handicapper despite a further seven pounds in the weights, and he is expected to win here and with ease before heading off for his chosen target at Cheltenham