Winners at prices up to 20/1 for this competitive race over the years but three favourites and a joint favourite in the last ten renewals suggest punters hold the upper hand, thought this year’s field does look seriously tough as you would expect on a Saturday card with decent prize money up for grabs. Le Reve won the last two runnings for Lucy Wadham but neither horse nor trainer are in attendance in 2017 and as things stand the Venetia Williams trained Otago Trail (9/2) heads the betting after finishing second to runaway winner Bristol De Mail in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock last month. That form does look solid, and the nine-year-old won’t go under without a fight with the handicapper kindly leaving him on the same rating this afternoon when a rise may well have been expected. His race record of three wins from nine starts (33%) is not to be sniffed at with wins at Exeter Chepstow and Newcastle (when he beat Bristol De Mai by over three lengths), and he may well get the softer gong that he needs come the weekend meaning his place near the top of the betting seems well deserved.
Jonjo O’Neill will never be short of friends in the racing World and has an interesting sort in here with Beg To Differ (9/2) who looks the better value at the current prices. Pretty decent over hurdles with three wins, he has done even better over the larger obstacles according to the handicapper’s ratings, and ran an absolute blinder to finish fourth to Gold Cup hope Native River at Chepstow in the Welsh National (beaten eighteen and a half lengths at the line). Looking one paced over three and three quarter miles he may well do a lot better dropped back to three miles this afternoon as he likes to race up or near the early pace given the chance, and he clearly looks to have a solid chance now with the predicted soft going perfect for his chances.
Irish Saint (11/2) is another interesting runner for Paul Nicholls if only because his trainer had a list of options before relying on the eight-year-old in his hunt for first prize. A decent sort who has won three of his eight starts over fences and has room to improve further, he was off for over eighteen months from April 2015 to November last year and may well have needed both runs so far to get him fully race fit. His sixth to Regal Encore last time isn’t really good enough to win this, but he may be tuned up at last and doesn’t run here without a solid chance.
Lastly, we rarely ignore the likeable Gary Moore and he has Antony (9/2) in here as he looks to bounce back from a below par eighth last time out at Newbury over a shorter trip. Prior to that he had won both races this season at Fontwell and Ascot, the latter over this three miles, but either he had an off day last time or the handicapper has him in his grip, and sadly it may well be the extra weight that stopped him and he runs off the same rating now.