A daunting handicap at first glance and that only one and one joint-favourite have obliged in its 24-year history tells you how hard it is at finding the winner. That said, the quality has definitely gone up in recent years and the classier types have tended to come to the fore – seven of the last nine winners came from the top eight in the weights – suggest we at least have a fighting chance.
So, those near the top of the weights make a good starting point and the pick of these are Paul Nicholls’ Topofthegame, who was last seen winning a nice handicap at Sandown, and William Henry, who is one of four Nicky Henderson-trained runners and has won three of his five hurdles starts, culminating in the Lanzarote last time. The form of that Kempton contest was boosted when the runner-up, Spritofthegames, filled third spot in the ultra competitive Betfair Hurdle. However, he’s been clobbered by the handicapper for that, going up 6lb, and while half of that is taken care of by James Bowen’s claim, it leaves him with 11st 10lb to carry. That’s no easy task in the conditions and I prefer to look elsewhere for the winner.
One horse further down the weights who looks to have a right chance is Ruth Jefferson’s MOUNT MEWS, who hasn’t looked a natural over fences in three chase starts this term, albeit he has won once and chased home Black Corton on his most recent outing in that sphere. The problem for him is that he’s not the biggest and his connections have wisely decided to switch him back to hurdles, rather than take in the JLT. That he looks well treated on a mark of 142 must have influenced that decision and, if you go far enough back on his CV, he’s definitely got the form to win this, having won a Grade 2 and claiming the scalp of Sam Spinner (favourite for the Stayers’) as a novice.
Fully effective on soft/heavy and with Brian Hughes (5-11 on him) booked, he looks to have solid each-way claims at the 16/1 on offer with Paddy Power, who are paying out on five places.
The layers much prefer the chances of Willie Mullins’ Max Dynamite, who is generally favourite or joint-favourite across the board, but I can’t have him at all. Whilst he has some sexy Flat form to his name – third in last season’s Melbourne Cup being the standout – his record over hurdles (1-8) is far less impressive and jumping seems to be a problem for him.