12 runners go to post for an intriguing qualifier for the Pertemps Final at the Festival in March. See our betting tips and the full race preview below.
IN SUMMARY: Cup Final was in good form last season and won this race last year, albeit off a 14lb lower mark, and has to be respected but preference is for Harry Fry’s WOTZIZNAME. A clear cut winner of two novice hurdles, he wasn’t disgraced on return this season when second behind Arpege D’Alene on chasing debut and has a huge scope for progression handicap debut off a mark of 140 back over timber. He should run a big race under Noel Fehily and may prove tough to beat if sharper for that seasonal reappearance.
1 CUP FINAL – Won this race last year off a 14lb lower mark, now on a mark of 146 after continuing to impress last season. Although pulled up in the Pertemps Final (2m 7f, Good), he ran on from a different post code to snatch victory at Punchestown in April, beating Jury Duty in a taking performance (3m, Yielding). Going up in distance is likely to suit Nicky Henderson’s eight year old and although he now has a career high mark to contend with, he shouldn’t be taken lightly with Nico De Boinville taking the ride. The lack of a run is a slight concern but likely to run well and has to be respected.
2 OSCAR ROCK – Blinkers for the first time over hurdles did the trick as he was a good winner at Market Rasen on seasonal reappearance, running on well in the closing stages (2m 4f, Good to Soft). Raised 5lb for that run though he’s entitled to come on from it and he definitely stays the trip if his run in the Gold Cup at Sandown in April 2016 is to be believed (3m 4f, Good). Conditions are fine and likely to run a big race for Malcom Jefferson with Brian Hughes in the saddle. Has won off a mark of 147 over fences so there is reason to believe he can do better over timber yet and is likely to be a main danger if continuing to progress.
3 CALL THE COPS – 2015 Pertemps Final winner whose still 7lb above his mark when winning that day when with Nicky Henderson. Has struggled however since early 2016 and has posted no efforts of note since, and signed off with Henderson when refusing to jump the final fence at Ffos Las, well beaten at the time. Has now joined Ben Haslam but hard to be at all excited about his chances with how poor he’s been of late and is certainly the JP McManus second string. Would be a surprise winner and likely best ignored.
4 AUBUSSON – Useful hurdler at his best Nick WIlliams including graded wins, and perhaps will be happier returned to these obstacles after two efforts over fences this season, finishing ninth in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November (3m 1f, Good to Soft). Last win over hurdles came in November 2014 off a 5lb lower mark than today’s but he continued to perform admirably off higher marks. Certainly not handicapped out of this and will find this much easier than the Grade 1’s he raced in when campaigned in France throughout 2016. Likely to run a big race under a capable 7lb claimer and has to be respected for Nick Williams.
5 WOTZIZNAME – Clear cut winner of two novice hurdles in 2016 and returned this season over fences when not disgraced behind Arpege D’Alene at Aintree in November (3m, Good to Soft). Goes back hurdling and is completely unexposed for Harry Fry and Noel Fehily, with a mark of 140 certainly manageable on handicap debut. Likely to improve further for this extra distance and has enormous scope for progress, as there is no telling how good he could be. Likely to run a big race and has to be respected on only his third hurdling start and fourth under rules.
6 EL BANDIT – Had won five races on the bounce before soft ground perhaps caught him out at Newbury on his latest start in November (3m, Soft). Never looked like the winner throughout that race and being upped further in distance has to be a question mark as there are no clues in his pedigree to suggest he’ll stay. Now 27lb higher than when starting out in handicaps and likely to need more if he’s to take this, with no guarantee his stamina will hold out either. If staying he’d certainly be an each way player for Paul Nicholls, but others make more appeal today.
7 ALZAMMAAR – Useful hurdler when with Warren Greatrex including three wins, though he seemed to be regressing towards the end of 2016 and joined the Sam England yard. Made a promising debut for that yard in January at Catterick, finishing second behind Nietzsche in a good performance (2m 3f, Good to Soft). That was a likely inadequate trip and a distance such as today’s should be more to his liking, with ground conditions perfect. Still 8lb above his last winning mark which is a concern but if building upon that latest effort then he’d certainly be a viable Each Way contender and is worth a second look.
8 MORITO DU BERLAIS – Struggled the last twice over fences when with Paul Nicholls but now has transferred to the Lucinda Russell yard and is back over timber. Only 5lb higher than his last winning mark and he’s performed admirable off a 4lb higher mark than this in 2015, which certainly makes him interesting. Needs to prove his stamina and better ground possibly isn’t ideal, but if this change of yard breathes new life into him he’d surely have to have Each Way claims and is an interesting runner with Blair Campbell taking off 7lb.
9 CLONDAW KAEMPFER – Running well this season and hit his peak when winning here over the three mile trip on New Year’s Day (3m, Good) and has been raised 3lb for that one length success over Arthurs Secret. The rise certainly doesn’t handicap him out of this as he’s won off a 6lb higher mark in the past and ground conditions are perfect today for Donald McCain’s nine year old. Likely to be a good Each Way contender with Will Kennedy taking the ride and should run a good race if continuing this good patch, as the further distance shouldn’t be an issue.
10 NAUTICAL NITWIT – Eight year old for Philip Kirby who rallied well at Wetherby on his latest start when second over the 2m 3f trip. Raised 3lb and goes up significantly in distance which is interesting, as he’s won at the three mile trip in the past, albeit when he was still a maiden back in 2015. Not necessarily out of this off a mark of 130 but does have work to do off this career high mark and others do have more convincing claims, and likely best watched today.
11 ARTHURS SECRET – Attempted to slip the field here on his latest start but was collared late by Clondaw Kaempfer who charged away towards the finish, though Sandy Thomson’s seven year old kept on in behind (3m, Good). Only raised 1lb for that effort and there is likely more to come now upped in distance, though he certainly has work to do with the aforementioned rival, though he’s on 2lb better terms this time. He also has the assistance of a 7lb claimer and is certainly an interesting candidate, but a record of 1-10 does temper enthusiasm and others may just be too progressive for him.
12 STONEHAM – Only mare in the lineup who has been poor the last twice, never looking particularly threatening before weakening out of it at this venue on New Year’s Day (2m 3f, Good). It’s possible that this extra distance may eek out some improvement but overall over timber he’s 2-17 and he’s still 9lb above his last winning mark. Has work to do off a mark of 116 and others have far more convincing claims today.