Plenty of horses declared for this valuable handicap with it’s £20,000 guaranteed in prize money but we are more than happy with the five we have picked against the field this afternoon.
Most if not all of the Jonjo O’Neill horses have been struggling on the heavy going this winter (and spring), with Champagne At Tara (12/1 Each Way) a prime example with an eighth of twenty-two on heavy at Newbury last time out, and a fifth of nine at Cheltenham on a similar surface the race before. Those runs have seen his rating come down a couple of pounds to the same mark as when he won at Catterick and was a good second to Maxanisi at Chepstow, and with the ground hopefully drying out by the minute, he has every chance this afternoon of getting back to winning ways with Richie McLernon in the saddle.
Blue Buttons (20/1) used to be owned by the Harry Fry Racing Club and did them proud but has now moved on to trainer Emma Lavelle and her new connections. She is a battler and no mistake, and has won four races over hurdles from her fifteen starts – plus two seconds and a couple of thirds. Close to £45,000 in win and place prize money isn’t a bad return, but she will be having her first run for her new yard and it will be interesting to see if the change of scenery brings improvement – or not.
If we are looking for an appropriately named outsider then Make Me A Fortune (28/1) has to be the one, even if he has been off the track for close to a year since finishing third to Southfield Vic at Haydock off a rating of 132, the same mark as he races off again today. It will need a career best effort to get him home in front today, especially with his fitness in question, but we still think he is improving even at the age of eight and he may have a few more races left in him.
Poor Chef D’Oeuvre (4/1) has to lump eleven stone twelve around today for trainer Warren Greatrex and jockey Gavin Sheehan but that does mean he is officially the best horse in the race and thus has a decent chance. Two novice hurdle wins and a fourth to the classy Yanworth explain his high rating, though his last runway victory was at Fontwell in a relatively poor race and at odds of 2/7 as well. Whether that form deserves a rating of 135 is open to question in our view, and he may struggle to give weight away to some of the others but you never know in this game and he ought to run well at the very least.
Our old friend Almost Gemini (20/1) has been diverted here from alternative engagements and seems attractively weighted off of just the ten stone eight right at the bottom, and as he is a last time out winner he needs to be seriously considered. Jockey Henry Brooke can easily do the weight, so no issues there, and he was pretty impressive all be it in a lesser race last time out at Sedgefield and even with another seven pounds on his back, he may well be able to get involved in the finish with this sort of trip right up his street.
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