Whilst, understandably, most of the attention is currently focused on this weekend’s exciting ITV racing – there is only a week to go before Newbury hosts one of the highlights of the jumps season in the ultra-competitive Ladbrokes Trophy.
With the likes of Denman, Bobs Worth, Many Clouds and Native River in the recent roll of honour, this is often a handicap that can produce a top-class winner.
Since taking up sponsorship of the race in 2017, however, Ladbrokes will be slightly disappointed that their two winners – Total Recall and Sizing Tennessee – were landing this on the back of handicap wins, rather than graded ones.
Fresh on the back of finding 25/1 BetVictor Gold Cup winner Happy Diva, Joe Eccles is back with his ante-post verdict on the Ladbrokes Trophy – where he has two selections that are currently priced-up at odds of 16/1 and 20/1 respectively.
Nicky Henderson has a fine recent record in this contest, with his runners in the last ten renewals, that have completed, producing eye-catching form figures of 4-2-1-1-6-0-6-4-0-2-4.
It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, to see his Ok Corral well found in the market.
This son of Mahler is fairly unexposed for a nine-year-old, having had just the ten starts in his career to date – and was last seen finishing pulled-up in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham in March.
A recent Newbury gallop did not reportedly set pulses racing, however, and he does have a little to prove on the back of his aforementioned Cheltenham performance.
At a significantly bigger price, my first selection is his stablemate On The Blind Side.
This seven-year-old has always been well-regarded by his connections, having been sent off at odds of just 11/8 for a Grade 1 novice hurdle at the Aintree Grand National Festival back in 2018.
Last season’s novice chase campaign did not quite go to plan, but it is a testament to this horse’s latent ability that he was sent off the favourite for a novice chase at Cheltenham in January, where he had Defi Du Seuil, Lostintranslation and Black Op to contend with.
Once again well supported on his seasonal/handicap debut at Ascot earlier this month, on the face of it, his fourth-place finish was slightly underwhelming. It is worth bearing in mind though, that two of the three horses directly in front of him – namely Vinndication and Black Corton – are both graded class, whilst the second Regal Encore was a course specialist who had slipped to a lenient mark.
The way that he stayed on under pressure there would strongly suggest that the step up in trip will suit, and although his connections have felt in the past that good ground suits him best, he won a Point to Point on soft and his dam Such A Set Up is a half-sister to mudlark Knockara Beau, so the forecast rainfall would not be of a concern to me.
As mentioned earlier in this piece, the last two winners of this contest have arrived on the back of handicap victories, so it is not a major shock to see the Willie Mullins-trained Cabaret Queen popular with punters on the back of her facile Munster National success – the same race that stablemate Total Recall took impressively prior to his 2017 Ladbrokes Trophy victory.
She is now twenty pounds higher, however, and although there could be some more improvement to come for her new yard – at more than double the price – I’d prefer the claims of Mick Channon’s Mister Whitaker.
Also a winner of a handicap on his last start, having scored at Cheltenham when last seen in April, I feel he may have been let in lightly here running off just a four-pound higher mark.
The Channon yard is in flying form at the minute, having had three winners from their last six runners, the most recent of those coming in a French Listed race.
All ground seems to come alike to this son of Court Cave, and the 227-day absence should not be of concern to his backers.
Mister Whitaker took an invariably strong Listed chase at Carlisle on last season’s reappearance, where he had subsequent BetVictor Gold Cup winner Happy Diva, and the now highest-rated chaser in Britain, Cyrname, directly behind.
He disappointed on his only previous run beyond an extended 2m5f, but he appeared to have excuses for that performance, and his pedigree certainly suggests that he should appreciate a stiff test, with his half-brother Broadway Buffalo finishing second in the four-miler at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.