GOLD Cup winning trainer Mark Bradstock can STEP BACK into the spotlight by landing Warwick’s biggest race of the season, The Classic Chase at 3.00.
Coneygree’s 2015 Cheltenham glory may seem distant now but he has another potential star on his hands in the lightly-raced nine-year-old.
On just his fourth start over fences Step Back landed Sandown’s Bet365 Gold Cup in April over this same 3m5f trip by 13 lengths from Rock The Kasbah with search parties having to be sent out to locate the likes of Present Man, Carole’s Destrier, The Young Master and Houblon Des Obeaux.
Those four and the runner-up have all won good handicaps this season so the form is rock-solid. Step Back ran well for a long way on his reappearance before weakening as if the run was needed.
He is 14lb higher than he was at Sandown but will love the good ground and his bold-jumping pace-pushing style should be ideal for the track, which is fairly sharp but is a real jumping test.
Nigel Twiston-Davies holds a strong hand with Calett Mad and Cogry.
Both should run well but the former could not beat the now 14-year-old Harry The Viking at Kelso last time off a lower mark and Cogry is high enough in the weights after his latest Cheltenham (where he always goes well) success.
Places may be their best hope. Cogry was second in this race last year off a lower mark behind Milansbar, who attempts the double.
He is not weighted out of things but he loved the mud 12 months ago and may not relish this faster ground.
Colin Tizzard also runs two but Sizing Codelco has been off since May and Ultragold saves his best for the Grand National course.
Ibis Du Rheu has not shaped as though this sort of trip is what he needs but if Paul Nicholls thinks it is that is good enough for me. However, he is short enough on his recent form.
Carole’s Destrier was a game winner at Newbury last time but was miles behind Step Back at Sandown.
As has been observed here Nicky Henderson has a fantastic team of novice hurdlers this season but, as Rathhill‘s backers found in the Tolworth last week, they are not unbeatable – and are invariably poor value in the market.
I spy an eyecatcher…
At Sandown last Saturday DARIUS DES BOIS looked likely to finish tailed off when jumping the Railway fences in the 2m4f handicap chase.
But he stormed up the hill to take second, shaping as though a step up to three miles would be just what the doctor ordered. His best hurdles form was at that trip and, after just two runs over fences, this big strong six-year-old surely has much more to offer as a chaser.
He is now rated 128 and Nicky Henderson will surely find an opportunity to exploit that mark pretty soon.
The same scenario may occur in Warwick’s Grade 2 Leamington Hurdle (2.25).
Henderson’s Birchdale has been favourite all week and he certainly won well on his hurdles debut over today’s course and distance last month. But the form is only useful so it can pay to go with the hotpot-opposing flow, TIDAL FLOW to be precise.
He beat Henderson’s Downtown Getaway, who cost £350,000, in a strong Newbury event last month, staying on strongly over a similar trip.
This race was named as the target by Philip Hobbs straight after and he looks set to run a big race. And he looks sure to be the value bet.
Rockpoint’s latest form is strong but his recent improvement has come at three miles and the drop in distance, plus the penalty, will make life tough. The rest, though all promising, have a bit to find.
FIRST ASSIGNMENT can resume his progression in the 3.35. Ian Williams’ six-year-old bolted in on his first assignment at three miles at Cheltenham in November off a 12lb lower mark.
His third at Haydock seven days later off just 5lb higher seemed disappointing but his trainer had said after Cheltenham that the horse needed a break between races but they might be tempted.
They were – and it failed to pay off. But the form still reads pretty well.
The race was won by subsequent Long Walk hero Paisley Park while the runner-up has won a novice chase on his only start since.
And the the first three were 20 lengths clear of the rest! First Assignment has had a seven-week rest and he can defy his new mark.
Notwhatiam was not disgraced when third at Aintree behind Midnight Shadow, who has gone on to win the Relkeel, and should go well.
Lungarno Palace is well handicapped on his October third behind First Assignment, but that race was over 2m5f and the winner has shown much better form at today’s distance.
Blaklion is well treated on chase form but has not raced over hurdles for nearly four years and this is surely a stepping stone on the path to another tilt at the Grand National.
Kloud Gate has strong claims in the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton but he has been well-found in the market so the best bet on the card could be BALLYKAN in the far less competitive handicap chase at 3.15.
Three miles round the Sunbury track on good ground is perfect for the nine-year-old as he showed when second in this race behind potentially top-class but ill-fated Fountains Windfall last year.
Ballykan was then again runner-up in the big course-and-distance race in February – in a much stronger field than this one.
He runs off the same mark, will have been aimed at this race, and seems sure to be in the shake-up. Glen Rocco ran on well when second here at 2m4f over Christmas but has to prove he stays. Barney Dwan has looked well handicapped for ages but is still prone to jumping errors.
At Lingfield MY TARGET can hit the bull’s-eye in the 2.35. He shaped well last time at Newcastle and has always been much better at the Surrey track.
Two years ago he was winning races like this off marks in the low 100s and is now rated just 87. Only last February he was beaten less than two lengths into third behind one of today’s rivals, that other track specialist, Chevallier but the winner is 13lb worse off now.
Breden is in tremendous form and is a big threat but his recent wins have been at Kempton and Chelmsford and he may not be as effective here.