Although only a field of five go to post, there are some smart types on show in what should be a fascinating contest. See our betting tips and the full race preview below.
IN SUMMARY: Aux Ptsis Soins is clearly a very smart sort and capable of better over fences, but so is PREMIER BOND who will give him a huge amount to think about. Always looking like a chaser in the making, Nicky Henderson’s seven year old came clear at Catterick on his latest start as he pleased and is likely to build on that effort today. He is a confirmed stayer at this trip and conditions are perfect for today’s run, and with how well the Henderson yard are going at present it would be foolish to underestimate him today.
1 AUX PTITS SOINS – Won the 2015 Coral Cup on his British debut for Paul Nicholls but made a poor start over fences at odds of 2/7, finishing a laboured second at Exeter in November (2m 3f, Good) after many mistakes. Posted a much improved effort at Kelso the time after however where despite again making some mistakes, he stayed on strongly to repel the challenge of two useful chasers in their own right (2m 7f, Good to Soft). Extra distance clearly helped and likely to continue improving as he’s still lightly raced for a seven year old and remains with scope for progress over fences. Has to be considered a main danger and is respected.
2 KERROW – Has 26lb to find with Aux Ptsis Soins in terms of hurdling form but has been much improved over fences and although only sixth on chasing debut (2m 7f, Good), he was much improved when winning at Taunton (2m 7f, Good). now has a penalty to content with which makes this very difficult against Aux Ptsis Soins and Premier Bond but he does remain with potential and is relatively lightly raced, jumping well on his latest start and could put the pressure on if doing so again. Likely to serve it up but may just find this too difficult.
3 NEXT EXIT – Won a handicap over 2m 4f at Leicester in November, but that was at Class 5 level. In this company however he is well outclassed and he’s likely to be struggling from an early stage.
4 PREMIER BOND – Useful hurdler at his best and very lightly raced, winning a competitive looking handicap at Newbury back in December 2015 (2m, Soft) and wasn’t disgraced on two hurdling runs later in that season. Returned this season over fences when second to the smart looking Might Bite at Doncaster in December, and improved on that display to saunter clear at Catterick on New Year’s Day as he liked when upped in trip (3m 1f, Good to Soft). Jumped well that day and quickened clear in the style of a smart prospect that day, and is likely to improve markedly again today. Nicky Henderson is 8-20 in the past two weeks and he remains with scope for progress and will put up a very strong challenge today and has to be respected.
5 VIENS CHERCHER – Useful hurdler at his best and hasn’t been disgraced on three runs over fences thus far, winning on chasing debut at Market Rasen (2m 1f, Good). He has however been beaten in two handicaps since including a third at Doncaster (2m 3f, Good to Soft) and a well beaten fourth at Musselburgh in January (2m 3f, Good). This is likely to be much tougher for him, though the better ground will certainly be a help. Brian Ellison’s yard is in good form at present with four winners from his last nineteen and his six year old is likely to give a good account of himself now upped in distance, but others are more likely for win purposes today.