The Betfred Mobile Hampton Novices’ Chase gets the TV action underway on Saturday and it is a fascinating listed contest.
All the attention in the market will rightly be on the Graham Wylie owned Black Hercules who will likely go off as warm favourite for this one.
The seven-year-old, who represents the juggernaut Willie Mullins yard, was highly impressive when romping to an easy success on his chasing debut.
The jumping looked that of a top class animal that day and the way he won suggested there is plenty more to come and this could be a stepping stone towards a likely showdown with No More Heroes and More of That in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
For that reason, he has to be the confident pick to further enhance his reputation and give his powerful yard another decent hope for the March showcase.
One danger to the selection is the Paul Nicholls representative Silsol.
The yard have been out of sorts so far this season, but seemed to have turned a corner in recent weeks. The seven-year-old built on a smart hurdling career when scoring on his chase debut and following up on it with a win at Haydock in a three-runner event. But the gelding has since been put in his place by Seeyouatmidnight at Kelso and so he may have to settle for place money here with questions to answer at present.
A more potent danger may come from the Brian Ellison charge Definitely Red who will be aided from Champion Jockey-elect Richard Johnson. He won a decent race at Catterick to make a winning start over the larger obstacles and he could well have more to come for his shrewd trainer so he is the one for the forecast, but even with progression not sure he will be able to trouble the selection with a clear round of jumping.
Black Hercules (WIN)
C&D winner Upsilon Bleu built on his reappearance when not beaten far over hurdles at Musselburgh at the beginning of the month and so he looks to have a solid chance of adding to his tally back in this sphere on the best of his form. He has an 100% record at the track and is feasibly well treated to strike in this Class 2 handicap chase. The Pauline Robson trained gelding has a moderate strike rate of almost 40% in today’s conditions and looks a solid each way bet in this one.
The obvious dangers will come from both the market principles. Whispering Harry had a superb first year over fences scoring on three occasions and looked like he would likely continue his progress this term when an excellent second at Newbury in November. But he suffered a heavy fall last time out and that may just have shaken his confidence enough to overlook him at a short enough price.
Tom George’s runner may provide the main threat after a progressive 2015 in similar type races, but he seemed to come unstuck in lofty company last time out when well held on Boxing Day. He returns back into handicap company today and should find life easier in ground that is right up his alley, but he will have to be at his best to see off the selection.
Upsilon Bleau (E/W)
The second visit to Warwick is for a highly competitive renewal of the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle qualifier as once again a number of runners will have one eye on the Cheltenham festival in March.
This race looks like it should be fought out between the market principles as Arctic Gold and Isaactown Lad put their growing reputations on the line here. The former is trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and will have his son Sam in the saddle once more. The five-year-old has gone from strength to strength this season and has left two poor early runs well behind by rattling off a hat-trick since. The latest of these was a five length success in the mud at Ludlow in his first time in a handicap. This race will need another step forward again, but the five-year-old is completely unexposed and seems to relish the conditions so he is backed to shade it in a close contest.
Isaactown Lad recovered from a heavy fall two runs back to score a four length success at Haydock last month in similar conditions to today. The win helped recapture the previous progress made this season and he has now won four out of five starts, but the handicapper has had his say with a 9lb penalty for his most recent success and so the concession of 4lbs to Arctic Gold may be key.
Of the other runners, one horse who could go well at a bigger price is the Donald McCain jnr yard Volcanic. The seven-year-old was a winner over fences earlier term before a successful switch back over timber at Bangor last month and with the potent Wayne Hutchison in the saddle he can certainly outrun his odds and looks a decent place bet.
Arctic Gold (E/W)
A tricky looking handicap hurdle and in such a competitive race it is always best to look for a bit of value. One horse who catches the eye is the Nicky Richards trained One For Harry. He made a winning season reappearance at Carlisle for the second year in a row and left a really good impression that day. The subsequent run over the brush hurdles at Haydock is probably best ignored as he hardly went a yard that day after simply not enjoying it. But if you take him on the merits of his best form then he should be right in the shake up today and could be potentially well in here. So the projected double figure odds look well worth chancing in a difficult race to crack so he gets an each way nod.
Maxie T clearly relishes today’s conditions as shown when he bolted up at Kelso in the mud over the festive period. He made a lasting impression that day and was hit with an 11lb rise for his troubles. That penalty may not be enough on the face of it to stop him going in again on only his third start for the Micky Hammond yard, but he has failed in five previous attempts at this level throughout his career.
Another horse of note is Dan Skelton’s Master Jake who has rattled off a four-timer including two recent novice hurdle wins. The form of those are not the best, but the eight-year-old may still be open to improvement having been a recent addition to the prominent trainer’s arsenal, but this is certainly a step up for him and he looks short enough in the market.
One For Harry (E/W)
The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle looks another very competitive grade 2 event, but an Irish raiding party look poised to launch an all out assault for the spoils in this one.
Trainer Willie Mullins has two of the market principles in the race, but it is the Rich Ricci owned Thomas Hobson the looks to have the best prospects here. The six-year-old seems to have already had quite the education over hurdles and has had to learn quickly from some tough lessons in his first few runs. He left himself with far too much to do and came down at the last on his hurdle debut when chasing down the eventual winner after being too keen early on. He bounced back with an easy win next time out before once again being punished for not settling when muscled out of his next race. But he looked right at home on ground with a little more ease last time out when a comfortable winner once more. These experiences mean he is prob the most battle hardened in the field and that coupled with his excellent 80% strike rate in today’s conditions mean he is the standout pick at the prices.
The obvious danger is Dan Skelton’s Born Survivor who was mightily impressive when dispatching of a subsequent winner over course and distance on his hurdling debut. He is open to any kind of improvement and is an exciting prospect, but looks short enough at the current prices and may not find life as easy in this grade today.
The aforementioned second Mullins yard representative Open Eagle has perhaps the best line of form into the race after chasing home the impressive Nicky Henderson charge Altior last time out and while he is unlikely to bump into that kind of classy runner here, he still has some questions to answer after being dispatched by some 13 lengths that day and his stable mate looks better positioned to pounce here.
Thomas Hobson (E/W)
Luv U Whatever is the likely market leader here and he arrives at the Essex track in decent form having built on a decent effort at Wolverhampton with a career-best at today’s trip over a longer distance last time out. The shrewd Michael Appleby brings the horse back down in trip in the hope of landing another pot here today, that would only enhance its respectable 33% strike on the surface, but he may be vulnerable to a more progressive sort.
Our Channel represents the William Haggas yard and he looks like the one to be on here. He was crying out for this step up in trip back to his preferred distance when below form at Lingfield last month. But the trainer reapplies the Cheekpieces today which have worked a treat in the past and so he really should be winning in this type of race on the pick of his best form so he gets the nod here.
Afonso De Souza represents the potent combination of David O’Meara and Daniel Tudhope who always have to be respected, but the horse has too many questions to answer at present and is probably best watched here.
Our Channel (WIN)
The Alan King stable continues to go great guns this season and they look to have another potentially exciting chaser poised to strike here in the Betfred Classic Chase. Sego Success comes here off the back of an impressive return to form at Doncaster last time out and he looked like he was one to stay on the right side of that day with apparently plenty more left in the tank. The first time cheekpieces worked a treat in that win and provided they are equally effective today, he looks set for another bold showing here back at the scene of his Listed novice chase win last term. He gets the each way nod here in a highly competitive field.
The yard also have a second live threat in Midnight Prayer who has the assistance of the in-form Thomas Bellamy from the saddle. The seasoned campaigner won the national hunt chase at the Cheltenham Festival last term, but has only made it back to racing twice since then. He did made a decent enough return from his absence at Newbury last time out though and he would be in the mix if he can still build on that effort at the ripe old age of 11.
A more potent threat, however, may come from the rejuvenated Paul Nicholls yard in the form of Vivaldi Collonges. He got his chasing career up and running when easily dispatching of five rivals on his seasonal reappearance at Kelso last time out and so he could be potentially well treated with improvement likely, but he has been hit with an 8lb rise in a much stronger race and the selection is likely to give him plenty to think about.
Sego Success (WIN) – NAP