Paul Nicholls has been the man to turn to in the Badger Ales Trophy – now called the Badger Beers - and is bidding for an unprecedented tenth success in the competitive handicap chase staged at Wincanton, his local course.
Nicholls and Bryony Frost have teamed up to win the last two editions with Present Man and the nine-year-old is set to defend his crown on Saturday off a mark just 4lb higher than the one he defied last year.
He has slid back in the weights after failing to make an impact in three starts after winning at Wincanton but will have been freshened up and it’s worth noting he won last year’s Badger Ales on his reappearance.
He will have been primed for this and has an excellent record at Wincanton, winning three of his five starts overs fences, but there is a doubt about whether he can repeat the kind of form he showed to win last season.
Nicholls could also turn to Give Me A Copper, who turned in a lacklustre display to finish fourth in the Bet365 Gold Cup (Present Man was pulled up) at Sandown on his final start but had shaped like a well-handicapped horse when coming home fourth on his reappearance at the same venue. He remains very lightly raced for a nine-year-old and has the talent to do better.
Colin Tizzard won with Gentleman John three years ago and he is responsible for the ante-post favourite White Moon. White Moon was strong in the betting on his return at Wincanton last month and was still in front, albeit facing a serious threat, when falling at the last. A 5 lb higher mark will demand more but he remains relatively unexposed over fences.
Tizzard could also be represented by West Approach, who is temperamental and has gone the best part of two years without a victory, and Royal Vacation, who is entitled to build on his comeback at Chepstow and has slipped to a fair mark but needs to do more.
Calipto catches the eye for Venetia Williams. He is one of the class acts in this field, and can be forgiven for his performance in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last season, when he was pulled up after losing a shoe.
Prior to that he produced a career-best effort when beating Black Corton in good style at Ascot, and he can make an impact if avoiding the mistakes which have sometimes hampered his progress.
Achille could also be an interesting contender for Williams having progressed well last season, winning three of his last four starts, including at Ffos Las on his final outing in April. He impressed with how well he jumped on that occasion, and the zest with which he travelled, and he remains relatively lightly raced for this yard.
Johanos was held in high enough regard by trainer Nigel Hawke to contest the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last season (he fell with a circuit still to race) and he created a good impression on his reappearance at Chepstow last month, going down narrowly to a race-fit rival having jumped well. The assessor was unable to bump him up in the weights, despite showing improved form, and he now looks well treated, even if he has to compete here from slightly out of the handicap.
There are plenty of familiar faces and old stalwarts in this handicap chase but it could be worth siding with the lightly-raced up-and-comer in Johanos. He has had only three runs over fences, so looks open to plenty of improvement, but has already run to a level which suggests he’s some way ahead of his mark. He needs a couple to come out to secure a run, but will hold excellent claims if making it to the start. Calipto made an impact in some competitive contests last year and could be the one to side with should Johanos not make the cut.