15 runners are scheduled to go to post for this valuable handicap hurdle (15:30), including the last two winners of the race in the shape of Iolani (122+) and The Navigator (128), both of whom are trained by Dianne Sayer.
The 11-year-old Iolani returned to form from out of the blue when filling the runner-up spot at Carlisle last month, looking the likeliest winner at one stage (hit a low of 1.36 in-running on the Betfair Exchange) before being worn down inside the final 100 yards. Beaten just half a length at the the line, he is 6 lb higher in the weights today but remains potentially well treated judged on the pick of his form. For context, he lines up here from a BHA mark of 99 having won off 112 at Kelso back in September 2021, since when he's been on a long losing run.
Last year's winner The Navigator arrives here in better heart than his recent form figures suggest and he certainly shaped better than the bare result when fifth on his latest outing at Catterick. He travelled fluently in rear and wasn't knocked about as he passed the post eight lengths behind the winner, still having running in him at the line. That performance earned him the 'Horse In Focus' Flag and he is very much one to be interested in having now dropped 3 lb below his last winning mark.
Ivetwiggedit (129p) also has the 'Horse In Focus' Flag and she tops the field on Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings having completed a hat-trick with plenty in hand at Wincanton earlier this month, only winning by two and a half lengths but looking value for plenty extra (jockey took things very easy on the run-in). She is clearly a totally different proposition since joining the Tom Lacey yard and a further 7 lb rise in the weights still looks lenient for a mare who arrives here on such a steep upward curve.
Can't Stop Now (126§) produced easily his best effort of the season when winning at this course a few weeks ago, hanging left late on but always having enough in reserve to land the spoils by three quarters of a length. He's by no means handicapped out of things from a 2 lb higher mark, especially with a 7-lb claimer taking over in the saddle, but he isn't straightforward and looks one to oppose given his way of doing things (often races too freely in front).
Perhaps more interesting is the third from that race, Cuban Cigar (126), who deserves credit for his consistency and ran his usual sound race when beaten only three and a quarter lengths behind Can't Stop Now last time. Admittedly, he doesn't seem to have much in hand from the assessor, but there is no reason why he shouldn't give another good account for Lucinda Russell, who has the 'Hot Trainer' Flag to denote that her yard is in rude health.
Scots Poet (124) and Russian Virtue (122+) are other last-time-out winners in the line-up. Scots Poet was scoring in handicaps for the first time when successful at this course last month, hitting the front at the last and sticking to his task well from there to win by two lengths. The manner of that victory suggests he was full value for a 5 lb rise in the weights, though he has generally struggled from this sort of mark in his career so far.
As for Russian Virtue, he is clearly in the form of his life having won his last three starts over hurdles and two of his last three on the Flat. Last seen winning on the all-weather at Newcastle a couple of weeks ago, he is back over hurdles today and lines up from a 7 lb higher mark than when completing his hat-trick in this sphere at Sedgefield in January. That was another emphatic success, quickly asserting in the straight to win by three and a half lengths, and his likeable way of going about things should continue to stand him in good stead.
Well Educated (123) has also been prolific this season with four wins from his last six starts over hurdles. He found his winning sequence coming to an end at Kelso on the last occasion, but that was still an encouraging run up in grade after four months off, simply unable to sustain his effort having made rapid headway out wide on the home turn. Likely to be sharper with that outing under his belt, Well Educated has the 'Horse In Focus' Flag and is certainly one to bear in mind now back in calmer waters.
Wor Verge (122) and Zamond (121) are a couple of others to mention. Wor Verge needs to bounce back from a couple of below-par efforts, but he's now only 2 lb higher in the weights than when winning easily at Carlisle in October, while Zamond also figures on a handy mark if rediscovering his best form. He won off 1 lb lower at Doncaster in December and was unsuited by the emphasis on speed when behind Scots Poet and Cuban Cigar at this course last time.
The field is completed by Pateen (120), Jackhammer (117), Bebside Banter (113), Simple Star (?) and Ten Ten Twenty (?), all of whom need to step up markedly on their recent efforts to have any chance of getting involved in a race as competitive as this looks on paper.
Timeform Analyst's Verdict:
Ivetwiggedit continues to go from strength to strength in handicaps for this yard and the manner of her win at Wincanton suggests she can land the 4-timer. The Navigator and Well Educated both shaped better than the bare result last time out so appeal as each-way alternatives.
Timeform's weight-adjusted ratings:
128 The Navigator
126 Cuban Cigar
126§ Can't Stop Now
124 Scots Poet
123 Well Educated
122+ Russian Virtue
122 Wor Verge
113 Bebside Banter
? Simple Star
? Ten Ten Twenty
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