It is fair to say that Haydock’s Peter Marsh Chase hit the ground running. I was surprised to discover that its first edition was as recently as 1981 – it seems to have been around forever, even to an oldie like me – and still more that four of its first nine winners went onto success in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Little Owl made the perfect start. A year later, Bregawn followed up (though his Cheltenham Gold Cup win was delayed for a further 12 months). The Thinker in 1987 and Jodami in 1993 (and again as a twelve-year-old in 1997) kept up the pace.
Things have been more low-key this century, but Bristol de Mai – who could yet take jump racing’s blue riband in March – was successful in 2017, and they don’t come a whole lot better than him.
This year’s race, due to take place at 15:15 on Saturday, promises to be one of the classier recent renewals, at least in terms of its top-weight. Valtor will run off a BHA handicap mark of 160, surpassed only twice this century, by Kingscliff (BHA 169) in 2006 and Alary (162) two years ago.
With 11 declared rivals, Valtor is likely to need to be at least borderline Cheltenham-winning standard to prevail here, but is just about favourite to do so. That, alone, makes this year’s Peter Marsh Chase worth tuning in for.
It would be quite a transformation from Valtor, a ten-year-old who was manifestly a rung or three below the top-class in a busy career in France, though an emphatic win in the Silver Cup at Ascot just before Christmas on his only start here does suggest it is possible.
With such a well-established race, trends analysis has more validity than usual. The following are some of the key trends judged on the last 10 runnings (2008, 2011 and 2013 were cancelled due to waterlogging, frost and snow), with % Rivals Beaten and First-3 Impact Values the best measures.
There is only one horse under the age of eight, and that is Daklondike, three running off marks in excess of 149 (Valtor, One For Arthur and Otago Trail), just one who has run more than three times this season (Ballyarthur), and two (Robinsfirth and Three Musketeers) “ruled out” by coming here on the back of an absence of more than six weeks.
Perhaps the most interesting finding is that running well last time is by no means a clear pointer to running well now. Last-time winners have under-performed, when over-performing could have been expected, while “fourth/worse” (which includes pulled-ups) have done the opposite.
There is one horse who has a leading chance on weight-adjusted Timeform ratings despite a poor last-time effort, and that horse – Otago Trail – has other things going for him also.
He earned his high mark by finishing a quite close third to Lake View Lad in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle last month on his first start in nearly two years, but flopped to last-of-11 behind Valtor at Ascot three weeks later.
Lake View Lad travels strongly and asserts to run out an impressive winner of the Listed @BetVictor Rehearsal Chase at @NewcastleRaces for Nick Alexander @kinneston, Henry Brooke and owner Trevor Hemmings: pic.twitter.com/7pXIHkcmFg— At The Races (@AtTheRaces) December 1, 2018
There is, however, nothing wrong with that earlier run, which was accompanied by a respectable timefigure, with the two who beat Otago Trail having both performed well since. It is worth regarding it as just one of those things.
Otago Trail’s trainer, Venetia Williams, has her horses in quite a bit better form now than she did when this one was last seen: 51% of Rivals Beaten in handicaps in November compared to 65% in the last few weeks.
Otago Trail has what it takes to run well under these conditions. Indeed, he was second to a rampant Bristol de Mai in this race two years ago, when it was run at a bit shorter but on softer ground. He has long shaped like an out-and-out stayer but this is actually the first time he will tackle a distance of 25f or further.
Red Infantry is the other one who interested me at the odds, though he does not fit the trends as well. Nonetheless, he is improving and versatile with regards to trip, ground and riding tactics. He should not be all that far away despite a further rise in his mark.
But Otago Trail, at a similar price, has more going for him providing you are prepared to forgive his latest run and is the recommendation.
There is little or nothing to be gained by going each way rather than win-only in mathematical terms, besides which Otago Trail represents more of a “do or die” type at the present stage of his career.
Recommendation: 1 pt win OTAGO TRAIL at 10/1