An absolute cracker of a handicap hurdle to end the card with and a big weight range from top to bottom means that we can expect a competitive renewal. Be warned, however – the last winning favourite was Detroit City back in 2005, with winners at all prices up to 12/1 in the nine renewals since. If the early betting is to be believed, then Alan King’s Winter Escape (11/4) is the one to be on as the five-year-old looks to make it four wins on the bounce and maintain his unbeaten record. After acceptable, but uninspiring, wins at Doncaster in a maiden and a novice, he was stepped up in class at Kempton in the Grade Two Dovecote Hurdle last February which he won by a comfortable length and a quarter. But with another summer on his back it will certainly be interesting to see just how far the son of Robin Des Pres can go for owner J P McManus with this little more than a stepping stone with any luck.
Paul Nicholls is here once again (as you would expect) and there has been plenty of early money for Modus (8/1) who has had the benefit of a recent run and thus a slight fitness edge over the favourite. Sent off a 6/1 shot at Ascot in a Listed handicap hurdle, he was only beaten half a length and a neck in to third after being left with a bit too much to do. However, he will strip fitter now and has only been put up a pound so must have a solid each way chance at the very least.
North Hill Harvey (10/1) has been the subject of bits and pieces of early money and could well threaten the places for popular trainer Nick Skelton. He hasn’t been seen yet this season but did finish a good fourth to Buveur D’Air at Aintree and only one place behind the top class Limini, though whether he can repeat that on his reappearance after a summer off is not so easy to define, and could be one step too far for him.
Listening to Nicky Henderson this week it seems as if he likes the chances of Brain Power (12/1) here as the lightly raced five-year-old looks to build on his novice season. Last time out they stepped him up to Grade 1 company at Punchestown when he finished third to Don’t Touch It in the Champion Novice Hurdle but ahead of the likes of Yorkhill. This suggests that he may be better than a handicapper. If that is the case, then a rating of 145 may not be enough to stop him here.
The hard to pronounce Ch’tibello (14/1) has always been very well regarded at the Dan Skelton yard and has a length and a quarter second to Altior on his CV. This is solid enough form to suggest that he can be competitive in this class. This season he has already turned out in a similar class of hurdle at Ascot when fifth to Sternrubin and a length or so behind Modus. But he meets that rival on four pound better terms while he was a length and three quarters behind the winner and meets him on three pounds better terms, so it should be close between the three of them.
Leoncavallo (10/1) has gone from Charlie Appleby to John Ferguson to Charlie Appleby and now to Ben Pauling. That said, he has won five of his eight starts over hurdles off handicap ratings as high as the 140 he is lumbered with this afternoon. He has had a run this season when runner up to Sceau Royal here when sent off a 12/1 shot, suggesting he may not have been race fit ahead of his return. He can only improve for the run which makes him a serious contender again this afternoon.
Right down at the bottom of the weights sits the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Thunder Sheik (50/1) and it will be interesting to hear his comments on this one when we chat on Friday morning. All his best form is on decent ground, so he won’t mind the predicted surface as much as some of his opponents. A rating of 129 seems reasonable, if not exciting, and he could go better than his massive price implies for a stable currently hitting a 26% strike rate. This can only increase his chances now.
Neil Mulholland is also ticking over nicely, with seven winners from his last 29 runners. He has snapped up Noel Fehily to ride Rossetti (50/1) who is looking for his fifth win already this season. They have been minor races compared to this, and he was a very poor third last time at Stratford. However, he will be in good health and, with so many wins to his name, deserves his place in our race preview.
Lastly, Jonjo O’Neill seems pretty bullish about the well-being of his horses. Mad Jack Mytton (20/1) has always been thought to be a good deal better than he has shown on the track, with just the two wins from 14 starts over hurdles. His overall form isn’t good enough, but he may have a better season now. However, this is a lot to expect and unless the market says otherwise, his chances of victory seem fairly slim.