Rose Loxton’s MONSIEUR GIBRALTAR has been improving rapidly this season and could have one last jolt of progress left in him to take this £30,000 prize for connections. He took a very easy victory at Taunton on his penultimate start in February when jumping well and travelling strongly throughout, following up that success when winning at Ascot three weeks ago. He took a while to warm up, but once he did he could be called the winner from miles out and he did not need to come off the bridle to record a comfortable success. Ground conditions are to suit and this progressive six-year-old may well be able to improve past these as he should be able to handle the tougher competition.
After completing the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown hat-trick in 2015 and 2016, On The Fringe has been disappointing the last twice and now has a point to prove for the king of the banks Enda Bolger. In the Cheltenham Foxhunters he did not seem to go with any great zest early on. He gave himself too much to do in the end and, despite making up huge amounts of ground, he was never able to reach the leaders and finished fourth. Although that was not necessarily a bad effort, more was expected of him. There is no doubt that his Aintree Foxhunters run was another bitter disappointment, pulling up two out after tailing off. At his best he would have to be considered a class act in this field, but that is not guaranteed and age is possibly starting to creep up on this twelve-year-old. He would not be one to take a short price of this time around and can be taken on despite winning this race in both 2015 and 2016.
Perhaps a more solid option would be Graham McKeever’s Balnaslow, who put in a brilliant shift in the Cheltenham Foxhunters when attempting to make all. Despite some mistakes, he was only headed at the last and kept on to finish fifth, only beaten around two lengths after losing a shoe at some stage. He gave another brave performance in the Aintree Foxhunters when finishing second; he was outpaced after the Canal Turn before staying on strongly late in the day when just having too much to do. He may well be happier with this smaller field as he should be able to dominate from the front if those tactics are enlisted, with conditions to suit and Derek O’Connor retaining the ride.
Second in the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup, Sir Des Champs has raced exclusively in the point-to-point sphere this year and has been running consistently well, with form figures of 42232. Even though he has been unable to get his head in front, these runs are positive signs. It might be hard to imagine him winning this after some miserable runs over regulation fences last season, but he has conditions to suit here and he would not be amiss in the placings in a weak looking race past the front three in the market. He is one to watch closely in the betting and should not be discounted entirely.
Despite winnin his last two runs in both spheres, Maple Mons will need a great amount of improvement if he is to be taking this for D M Christie and Barry O’Neill. Winning a point-to-point two weeks ago, he followed that up three days later when winning here over the three mile trip, comfortably running away from his rivals. Although that was a good effort, that field was nowhere near as competitive as this at the head of affairs. He is entitled to place claims if one of the front three underperforms, but he would be a reasonably surprising winner considering how much he needs to find with a few of these.