Some decent horses have taken this race over the years including Celestial Halo (twice), Zarkandar, Melodic Rendezvous, and Purple Bay, for example. Paul Nicholls has won it four times in the last ten years and has two good entries here, either of which seem sure to go well. Zubayr (9/2) would be our idea of the number one pick and is open to any amount of improvement after just the six starts. Two wins at Kempton and here at Wincanton (over course and distance) sandwiched a thirteenth of fifteen in the Triumph hurdle at Cheltenham and he signed off with a third to Footpad and Device at Auteuil in May, after which he has had a summer off but with the Nicholls yard on fire he could run well here on his way to better things.
With Dan Skelton very much a trainer on the up it could be folly not support North Hill Harvey (3/1) who comes next in our race preview, as they look to get a third win out of the five-year-old after a point to point and a novice hurdle. Competing in the better races last season he finished ninth to Altior in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and then fourth to Buveur D’Air at Aintree and if he has improved over the summer as you would expect he could be a bit of a dark horse now and is clearly the one we want to be on now.
Meanwhile we mentioned 2013 winner Melodic Rendezvous (33/1) earlier and he is back to try and regain his crown as a ten-year-old, though this season he has to carry eleven pounds less than he did back then when nearer to his peak. Trained by Jeremy Scott he hasn’t been seen on the track since being pulled up at Aintree in April in a two and a half mile handicap and as he hasn’t won since December 2014 it may be asking too much for him to make a successful comeback here, popular as a win would be with the racegoers.
With Alan King banging in some big race weekend winners of late we do like the look of Sceau Royal (11/8) who could hardly have been any more impressive on his return two weeks ago when hacking up at Cheltenham by elven lengths from Leoncavallo. Easy to back that day and the supposed stable second string he sprinted clear up the hill that day and if he strips any fitter now they may not see which way he went even after a weight rise of ten pounds that he needs to shrug off here.
James Ewart is another trainer going places but his Aristo Du Plessis (20/1) will have to improve again to give this much weight away to his up and coming challengers. Last time it they sent him chasing at Cheltenham which was disastrous with a seventy length fifth and last of the finishers, but back over hurdles he should do better provided that didn’t knock his confidence. He put together a quite amazing run of six wins in seven starts from February 2015 to January 2016 before a sixth to Shrewd off one pound higher than he has this afternoon and it may just be that the handicapper has his measure.
Running through the other runners in race card order and Rayvin Black (18/1) is all set to represent Oliver Sherwood who is one of the more popular trainers and usually wears a smile. Thomas Garner will ride and takes a useful three pounds off thanks to his claim, while the horse put in a perfectly satisfactory comeback effort when fourth to Hargam at Kempton last month. Sure to strip a little fitter now after his first run in five months we suspect they will try and use his fitness advantage over some of these, and although no good thing he could still run better than his odds suggest.
Peckhamecho (100/1) isn’t as bad as it looks at first glance and is rated seven pounds lower now than when last seen over hurdles in March 2015 at Cheltenham and could be well in on his very best form that includes a win at Aintree over three miles plus but may find this too short for him these days.