It’s fair to say that given the prize money on offer, the turnout for this race in recent years has been disappointing, only attracting single-figure fields the last five years. However, there is a competitive look to this year’s race at the five-day stage, with 19 entries, and if the majority stand their ground then it should be an exciting renewal.
One of those 19 is last year’s all-the-way winner Tenor Nivernais. Admittedly, he has been disappointing in all three of his starts since, but as a result finds himself back down to last year’s winning mark. He also has a good record round here (two-time winner over fences) and, though he ran no sort of race in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on his return – never going well after a mistake at the first – it wouldn’t be a surprise were he to leave that running well behind now.
Closer to the fore of the market is the Nicky Henderson-trained Gold Present, who has looked an improved model this season, winning both of his starts. The form of his latest success over this C&D in the Silver Cup looks strong, the runner-up Frodon subsequently coming out and winning a Grade 3 Handicap at Cheltenham on his next start. Gold Present looked more straightforward returned to a right-handed track that day, and should have more to offer as a chaser, but the feeling is he will need to if he’s to defy an 8 lb higher mark.
It is another Henderson inmate in the shape of Josses Hill that tops the Timeform weight-adjusted ratings. He managed to win twice in 2016/17, including the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, and was highly tried after, taking in the King George, Ryanair and Melling Chase on his next three starts. He has been below form in three starts this season, his best effort coming when finishing runner-up to Top Notch in the re-arranged Peterborough Chase at Taunton in December. This is his first foray into handicaps and, if running to the pick of his form, a mark of 150 could underestimate him, but he does have a bit to prove, and not least stamina stepping back up to three miles.
Leading owners Paul and Claire Rooney have two live chances with Go Conquer and the progressive Master Dee. The former finished runner-up to Tenor Nivernais in this race last year, but he has taken his form to a new level this season. He proved better than ever when winning the Sodexo Gold Cup over this C&D in November, putting in a bold front-running display, and was still in front and going well when falling in the Silver Cup won by Gold Present last time. The more the ground dries out the better for him – the ground at the time of writing is soft – and another who goes well at this track, he will be a danger to all if getting in a nice rhythm on the front end.
Master Dee is a very likeable type who doesn’t know how to run a bad race, winning three times in 2016/17, and hitting the frame all three starts this season. He is still improving judged on his runner-up effort at Aintree last time, arguably sent for home too soon, clear between the last two but eventually headed on the run-in, one paced but giving it his all. His trainer Fergal O’Brien could hardly be in better form at present, and he strikes as the type who could flourish in a strongly-run race over three miles; potentially plenty of pace on here.
Others to consider
Another Venture is progressing nicely over fences, improving again to follow up his Chepstow success at Hereford last month, value for more than the one and a half-length winning margin. He hasn’t shown all he can as yet over fences, and remains fairly treated from a 7 lb higher mark.
Holly Bush Henry has already won four times this season (three times over hurdles) and showed his versatility when winning a handicap back over fences at Fakenham last month. He ran another fine race in defeat at Sandown last time and should continue to give a good account.
The consistent Master Dee arrives here on the back of a career best and could have even more offer stepping back up to three miles. A sound jumper, he looks the way to go in a race likely to be run at a strong gallop, with the hat-trick-seeking pair Another Venture and Gold Present others to note.
Back Master Dee at 10/1 in the Keltbray Swinley Chase at Ascot on Saturday