After a quiet week there is a race of interest today, a 0-140 contest over 2m4f. It doesn't look an easy race to weigh up however, and my tissue prices are quite different from the current odds.
Western Miller; Front runner, winner of seven under rules but never from a mark this high.
Monsieur Gibralter; A winning machine between the flags and in hunter chases, but 0/5 in handicaps and winless in six novice chases three summers back. His form in the spring before last appeared to be on another level, winning four hunter chases on decent ground showing a very high cruising speed and swift jumping. The question is whether he can translate that form to this handicap, and even if he can, will it be good enough to defy a mark of 138.
Knockgraffon; Best form at Musselburgh in recent seasons and never going at Market Rasen recently. Will like the ground but plenty to prove here.
De Plotting Shed; Routinely shirked the issue when trained in Ireland but new lease of life for current yard in 2019, and clearly a useful sort when on song. Another that looks a shade high in the weights on balance, but not implausible that he could take a hand if fully tuned up.
Lovato; Useful on the flat in Germany, although regularly turned over at short odds and second seven times, winning once at long odds on. Turned the corner for Dr Newland, winning four times over timber and then won his second chase start here in September from an 8lb lower mark. I rated that as fairly weak form for the grade with those in behind looking poorly handicapped. Flopped either side of that win and has his own way of jumping, which comes with being bred for the Flat.
Mercian Prince; A fine servant to connections being 7/24 over fences before going missing last season in the face of a lofty rating and relentlessly soft ground. Probably didn't achieve a great deal in winning a novice hurdle over a week ago but that would have helped with his confidence, having had a third breathing operation. Undoubtedly the best handicapped horse in the race and a very sound jumper, for all that he may favour going right handed.
River Frost; Gained some consistency last season on soft ground when getting his jumping together but resumes on a tough mark and this ground is lively enough.
Ronava; Veteran looks on a stiff mark after two wins in lesser company last term.
Solar Impulse; An infrequent winner but talented enough and often travels very well, however has never fully seen out this trip. Likely to run his race from a competitive mark which could see him finish fourth or fifth.
Scoop The Pot; Becoming dangerously well handicapped on best form but wants much further and trainer's jumpers have been running round at the back since the resumption.
10/3 Mercian Prince
7/2 Monsieur Gibralter
9 De Plotting Shed
10 Western Miller
12 Solar Impulse
14 Knockgraffon P
40 River Frost
50 Scoop The Pot
Conclusion; I came into the race thinking Mercian Prince was the one I wanted to back at odds of around 4/1 but that has so far not materialised. This is the first time he's been on the go so early in the season and that may be due to a preference for a sound surface. Four handicap wins have come from a higher mark than he runs off today so his chance is obvious, the concern being whether he's become a bit shop-worn and the fact he's now had three breathing ops. If he drifts to 4.6 on the machine I may be tempted.
I did think M Gibralter would be put in shorter and at 5/1 it is quite tempting to pay to find out if he can translate that impressive hunter chase form to a more competitive format. The mark is undoubtedly at the top end of his range, but if he's improved again from eight to nine (possible) he can win. Lovato has been well backed but he's not the sort of horse I take to and although you could say he has most scope for improvement having had just three starts over fences, I've taken a dim view of his mark and question his jumping prowess. I could be wrong. Of the others, only De Plotting Shed has the ability to trouble the front two in the market from today's handicap mark, should he be 'fully fit'.
Pace-wise Western Miller could have things his own way in front and if so he might keep on for a place. If backing Mercian Prince you wouldn't want him to get involved in an early joust for the lead and the jockey should be happy to take a lead on this occasion.