No Hey Big Spender this season which is a shame as had become a standing dish here winning this race not once but three times at odds of 5/2, 5/1, and 12/1, but 2015 winner Wakanda (9/1) is back to defend his crown for trainer Sue Smith though this season the handicapper has him racing off a mark a full seven pounds higher which seems highly likely to scupper his chances. He did win again at Ascot after scoring here last season but was then pulled up in better races behind Smad Place at Cheltenham, and then behind the great Cue Card at Aintree before being put away for the summer. Returning this season at Wetherby in the Charlie Hall Chase he finished last of seven beaten fifty-one lengths at the line and although this does look a bit weaker than his recent engagements, he does seem woefully out of sorts and should perhaps be an even bigger price than he is at present.
If we follow the early money then we need to consider Definitly Red (10/3) in our race preview as trainer Brian Ellison sends the seven-year-old here looking for his second win of the season after he took a Class Two hurdle at Carlisle last month that will have put him spot on for a return to fences this afternoon. His last win was at Ayr over two and a half miles plus but he did finish second to Black Hercules at Warwick which gives him the beating of Bristol De Mai at these weights if taken literally and he has to arrive here with a very solid chance with the bang in-form Brian Hughes in the saddle as expected.
Our good friend and colleague Nigel Twiston-Davies has Bristol De Mai (4/1) in here and it was interesting to hear his comments on Friday morning with regards to his chances. He was top class as a novice over fences and can claim wins at Warwick, Leicester, Haydock, and Sandown as well as a second to the top class Ar Mad as well as a second to Black Hercules in the JLT Novices chase but this would be his first try and close to three miles and his supporters will have to take his stamina in trust. On breeding he may well improve for it as he is from the same sire as Alpha Des Obeaux but we all know that is hardly a reliable way to consider a selection, but if he does get home he is clearly going to be a very serious challenger here.
Paul Nicholls’ has decided he will rely on Virak (7/1) who would have a pretty decent chance if he can recapture his very best form. He clearly likes it here having finished second to Wakanda last season only beaten half a length and although he is two pounds worse off with that rival in 2016 he does seem the more reliable of the pair at present, and with a recent run to put him straight when he finished ahead of Wakanda he could shock a few of his better fancied rivals here.
As mentioned in previous weeks, Kerry Lee is very much a trainer to keep on the right side of and will continue to improve over the years ahead, and she has Bishops Road (9/1) in here who looks to have a decent each way chance. The eight-year-old has only had the four races for his new trainer after arriving from the Henry De Bromhead yard last December with wins at Sandown and Haydock followed by unseating at the first at Aintree in the Topham Chase and falling at the first at Sandown in the bet365 Gold Cup in April but if he is over those issues he could go well this afternoon under the excellent Joshua Moore.