Always an interesting handicap but with just the one winning favourite in the last ten years and winners at odds up to 33/1 punters need to be wary before placing their bets. With so many possible runners it was interesting to see that Tea For Two (9/2) headed the early betting for trainer Nick Williams who reunites the seven-year-old who takes a useful five pounds off his back. He proved himself to be one of the top staying novice chasers last season with wins at Exeter and Kempton (when he took the Feltham Chase on Boxing Day) before he signed off with a third over an inadequate two and a half miles at Sandown in the Scilly Isles Novice Chase in February. The betting suggests he is primed and ready for action ahead of this contest and he seems sure to go well, though you can never be sure where they sit in relation to their more experienced rivals when they first step out of novice class.
With the value in the likely favourite all but gone we prefer the each way chances of the Tom George trained A Good Skin (15/2 Each Way) who has the benefit of a recent run that could yet make all the difference. Stamina is clearly his main weapon with good runs over even further than this three-mile trip including a twelve length second to Cause Of Causes in the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival and although put up a pound for that, he ran well on his reappearance when third to Potter’s Cross at Chepstow when the betting suggested he may yet improve further with race fitness on his side. He stays, he jumps, he is race fit, and his stable are in good form, and at the prices he certainly looks like the value call.
To everyone’s surprise, Paul Nicholls has decided to let Saphir Du Rheu (4/1) return over fences rather than hurdles and that decisions has seen some hefty market support and he is now challenging for favouritism. A classy if incredibly frustrating sort, he seems to be a fraction short of the very best over both hurdles and fences but usually races in stronger company than he faces here which make him all the more interesting. A good jumper if prone to the odd mistake he is basically dropping in class this afternoon but is that to give him a race on his way to other targets, or is it for a confidence boosting win, only time will tell on that one.
When it comes to chasers, Kim bailey bows to no one and he has Un Ace (20/1) in here who looks potentially overpriced. Now an eight-year-old, he has only had the eight races over fences, winning three of them and placing in two others though he did blot his copybook last time when unseating Tom Bellamy at Uttoxeter in April at Uttoxeter. He does seem to have his own ideas on occasion but there is little doubt that he is potentially well handicapped off a rating of 144 having placed off 149 in the past, and with more improvement possible or even likely, if there is a dark horse here then he may well be the one.
To end with, Harry Fry is another trainer who can do little wrong at present but even he may struggle to get Voix Deau (8/1) to the front this afternoon in this company. His form isn’t really up to this that we can see and he is yet to win or even run over further than two miles five but he does have a fitness edge after a recent third to Art Mauresque though if that sort of form is good enough to be competitive here we would be surprised.