Its the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury this Saturday. Here’s a rundown of each horse:
1. Elegant Escape
Runner-up in this last season off a 5lbs lower mark before going onto win the Welsh National. Winless in Grade 1s and 2s since then, but ran Frodon close in the Cotswold Chase and was satisfactory on his reappearance when second in the Charlie Hall last time out.
Doesn’t look to have much to hide from the handicapper and is arguably vulnerable to a rival with more gears, but this is the sort of race that will suit an out and out galloper like him and he’s not one I’d rule out, especially if the accent is on stamina.
2. Beware The Bear
Had been one to treat with caution in the past, but found himself putting together a string of good efforts last season, finishing fourth in this before winning at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day and then again in the Ultima at the Festival.
Was always going to struggle off a mark of 160 in the Bet365 last time out and has only been dropped 2lbs for that, so still looks up against at the weights- he’ll need to be a proper Graded performer to win a race this competitive of such an inflated mark, and on all known evidence so far, he falls slightly short of that level.
3. Brave Eagle
There won’t be many horses with a rating as high as 158 who have gone under the radar as much as Brave Eagle has done in recent months. He missed pretty much all of the season proper last year, and gained his lofty rating with wins at Huntingdon in May and then again when producing a gallant effort to take Uttoxeter’s Summer Cup off top weight in June.
Boasts a great strike rate of four wins from five chase starts, but this is race is different gravy compared to those he’s been competing in.
There’s also question marks for Brave Eagle to answer regarding the ground at Newbury; though a winner on heavy going over hurdles, he’s been raced exclusively on good ground for each of his last nine starts, which strongly suggests would considered a sound surface as being crucial to Brave Eagle.
As a general rule, I’m always well against horses with inflated marks from successful summer jumping campaigns as the general opposition tends to be much weaker, and it seems that Brave Eagle is up against it from this mark.
4. Yala Enki
Thorough stayer who makes his debut for Paul Nicholls in this after a grand couple of years representing Venetia Williams, for whom he gained a big win in the 2018 Grand National Trial. Flying much too high in the Gold Cup last time and is back at a more realistic sort of level for his new trainer. Well-equipped for these sort of big field handicaps, but even 3m2f appears to be on the sharp side for him and it’s paramount to his chances of victory that the race turning into as much of a slog as possible. If that happens, he’d be in with a shout of making the frame, but better ground could well leave him vulnerable to nippier, less exposed types.
Given the way his career has panned out, it seems insane that Yorkhill was a Grade 1 winner at the Cheltenham Festival in both of his first two seasons over obstacles, but his idiosyncrasies have often got in the way of his talent and he’s been an expensive horse to keep with the faith with over the last couple of seasons.
Gained his first victory in over two years at the Galway Festival back in August, but his two efforts since haven’t been anything to shout about and his overall profile in recent years has been overwhelmingly more bad than good. A risky proposition.
A seemingly fragile sort, so has been lightly raced over the past few seasons for one his age. He’s been in cracking form when we have seen him, though, and hasn’t finished out of the first two in the last two seasons, including when taking the Grand National Trial at Haydock on his last outing.
He’s a likeable sort and has undoubtedly earned his now career high rating of 153, though this looks to be the deepest race he’s ever contested, so would probably need to produce another level of form to take this. Again, a real test of stamina would play to his strengths if the race panned out that way, and I wouldn’t be keen to complete rule him out of making the frame.
There’s others higher on the shortlist, though.
7. Ok Corral
Another horse whose career has been rather stop-start due to injury problems, but one who has looked clearly talented when he has made the racecourse. He was second in the Albert Bartlett as a novice hurdler and looked to have attained a similar level over fences when winning a Listed event at Warwick last January.
I thought he oozed class in victory at that and he’d have been my e/w pick for the RSA had that been the plan for him, though connections plumped to run him in the National Hunt Chase instead. That plan didn’t pay dividends, but it’s easy to forgive a horse a disappointing effort in what proved to be a gruelling race.
If that race hasn’t left a mark on him, I’d say he’s the likeliest horse in the field to be well ahead of his rating- and barring Elegant Escape, the only one, that at this stage, I could see potentially justifying a place in the Gold Cup later on in the season. That being said, he’s been well found by the market (currently 6-1 favourite), and is perhaps a point or two shorter than he should be.
Nevertheless, he probably possesses the “sexiest” profile of any runner in this and is the sort of unexposed second season chaser than tends to do well in this race. A clear contender.
8. Mister Malarky
Had a very productive novice campaign last season, winning the Reynoldstown as well as finishing fourth in the RSA and second in the Listed handicap on Grand National day. May not have the flashyness or pizzazz of Ok Corral or On The Blind Side, but looked absolutely built for this sort of good staying handicap.
Doesn’t look unfairly weighted, especially given that he was only beaten by three Gold Cup quality horses in last season’s RSA, and is the sort of straightforward jumper and galloper that tends to go well around Newbury, especially in a big field like this.
He’d have been my pick for this race a month ago- and though whilst it’s fair to take into account that several of the Tizzard string looked to need their seasonal reappearance- there were no positives to take from his seasonal reappearance when beaten over 80 lengths at Ascot.
He’s a short enough price for one who was so abject last time out, and whilst I can see the case for him, I can’t consider him a betting proposition myself off the back of the Ascot run.
9. On The Blind Side
He’s possessed a big reputation from a young age but I’ve always found On The Blind Side a slightly hard horse to assess.
His defeat of Talkischeap at Kempton in January now reads very well, but his other two novice chase starts, albeit in good company, offered little encouragement, whilst it’s up for debate as to whether his second to Younevercall in a weak Grade 2 when tried back over hurdles was a dent run or not.
Nevertheless, he made eyecatching progress over the last two furlongs when fourth at Ascot on his seasonal reappearance and looked as if the extra two furlongs here at Newbury would play to his strengths, though I will add that he was out the back of the telly turning for home and never once looked like actually winning the race, which is always a trait I worry about in regards to backing horses, as the visual impression strong finishers give at a crucial stage of the race often means they can bet overbet next time out despite not actually ever threatening a winner.
On a formline through Talkischeap, he should possess the talent to make his presence felt at this level and could be well ahead of his mark. Not ruled out, though I think others have more convincing profiles.
10. De Rasher Counter
Always looked like one who would be at his best in staying chases, thought it took him a while to warm to his task over fences, he beat Walt here at Newbury last December before gaining his second win over the larger obstacles at Uttoxeter
This is, by some degree, his hardest assignment yet, and his occasionally cumbersome jumping could do with being brushed upon, but he properly tanked through his race at Uttoxeter in the manner of a horse capable of going well in something like this. Not discounted.
11. Le Musee
Made a winning chase debut at Ffos Las back in June and then again on his handicap debut at Perth in September, been beaten in much weaker races than this in a recent months and was flat on his last outing at Perth again last month. Given no respite by the handicapped and ranks as a very unlikely winner from a career high mark.
Looked a nice staying chase prospect when winning the Mandarin Chase over C&D in December 2017 and also took the Tommy Whittle at Haydock last season, but can be somewhat of an “all or nothing” horse and covered himself in no glory when refusing start in the Eider Chase last season.
Showed promise on his seasonal return when second in a Pertemps qualifier and doesn’t looked unfairly weighted off 147. Stamina is this lad’s strong suit and could come into consideration if the ground turned heavy, though you’d have to take somewhat to leap of faith in thinking Daklondike is guaranteed to put his best foot forward.
Joined Gordon Elliott in November as a new purchase from France for Isaac Souede & Simon Munir. His first two starts in Ireland were admittedly relatively mediocre, but, after gaining a couple of confidence boosting novice hurdle wins in the summer, the penny finally dropped for Borice and he ran out a decisive winner of the Galway Plate last time out.
The handicapper had him off 136 that day and he’s been bumped up 10lbs for his victory, but given the shrewdness of his connections and the overall profile Borice possesses, it wouldn’t be daft to suggest there’s potentially still more juice in that mark. The step back up to 3m2f shouldn’t pose a problem and he’s proven that these sort of big field handicaps suit him well enough.
An interesting angle I think is worth noting is how his connections surely have a good grasp of how much his French form is worth- they also own Saint Goustan Blue, who won the last race Borice competed in his homeland, whilst perhaps more crucially, they also bought Valtor, who was one place ahead of Borice when the pair finished down the field in sixth and seventh respectively in the 2018 Grand Steeplechase De Paris- a race in which they also owned the third placed horse Edward D’Argent.
A pair of fairly experienced chasers, aged six and eight and soundly beaten on their last starts, may not have been the flashiest or most obvious of purchases for two of the game’s leading owners. Therefore, I think it makes sense to suggest that they knew the form was strong, and that they knew exactly the quality of horses they were acquiring and felt good races could be won with them.
Valtor was ridiculously underestimated in the market on his British debut in the Ascot Silver Cup, being sent off at 33/1, but absolutely hacked up and made a mockery of both his odds and his opening British mark of 148. He’s currently rated 160 over fences, which the Munir & Souede team, no doubt headed by their main man in France Anthony Bromley, must’ve suspected was a truer reflection of his achievements on the other side of the Channel than his assessment by the BHA.
A similar plan must’ve been in mind for Borice, who appeared to take slightly more time to acclimatise to his new surroundings after appearing fairly lacklustre last winter. It could end up being that I’m reading too much into details that will prove to be utterly irrelevant with regards to Borice’s chances in the Ladbrokes Trophy, but the vibes around this horse, even down to the fact he was entered for the National only a month afternoon joining Elliott last year, a race which has been mentioned as a longer term target again this season, all point towards everyone connected with this horse thinking he’s a fair bit better than the handicapper had given him credit for.
His day in the sun could’ve been at Galway, and we might’ve missed the boat on him- but I’ve got a sneaky feeling that that could’ve been the start of a big year for this horse, and lots of things look to be in his favour here. I wouldn’t be surprised if his team were celebrating again at Newbury.
14. Cabaret Queen
Only rated 119 at the start of September following her transfer from Dan Skelton to Willie Mullins, but has been transformed by the Closutton maestro in a space of a few months.
She ran with clear potential when second to The Big Lense over an inadequate 2m4f on her Irish debut, massively built on to turn one of Ireland’s major staying handicaps, the Munster National, into an absolute procession. It’s rare to see a horse looking they could go round again having dismantled a supposedly competitive field, but the manner of Cabaret Queen’s victory at Limerick was as impressive as I’ve seen in that sort of race.
It’s a remarkably similar profile to Mullins’ 2017 winner Total Recall, who took the Munster National only a couple of months after joining from Sandra Hughes and followed up here off an 18lb higher mark.
This is a harder assignment again for Cabaret Queen, and the question is how much more she has in hand from the handicapper, but she’s clearly a horse on a huge upward curve and I can see huge market support for her occurring on the day. She’s a player.
15. Two Taffs
Showed no signs of rustiness when making his return from over two years off the track with a really good third in the West Yorkshire Hurdle last time out and was in cracking form went last seen out over fences, winning a Listed race at Ayr in between two placed efforts, including in the novice handicap at the Cheltenham Festival.
His lack of a recent chase run has to be a concern, and this trip is further than he’s ever gone before, but all the ability looked to remain at Wetherby.
If he hits the frame it’s a huge training performance from Dan Skelton, though the horse is good enough to do so if getting the trip.
16. Dingo Dollar
Third in the race last year and also finished placed in the Grimthorpe, but flopped when well fancied at Doncaster and Cheltenham either side of those efforts. I didn’t think he shaped like he stayed in last year’s renewal, but in his runs since I’d be inclined to say the opposite has looked true and he’s seemed slightly one paced whenever asked to quicken. Decent enough when third in the Pertemos Qualifier that Daklondike was runner up in last month, but I’ve always found Dingo Dollar a hard horse to grasp and he’s not one I’d have in consideration for this.
17. West Approach
Hard to win with, but undoubtedly a high class animal and enjoyed quite a good season over hurdles last year, twice finishing runner up to the great Paisley Park.
Finally took advantage of a lenient looking chase mark to gain his first victory in almost two years at Cheltenham last time out and wasn’t disgraced when second behind the reopposing The Conditional on his prior start, and running in this a revised mark of 146 still probably underestimates the ability that West Approach possesses.
He is prone to throwing the odd stinker for no reason though, and even in victory last time out, Robbie Power labelled him as being “soft.” Not completely discounted from bettering last season’s fifth in this, though.
18. Some Chaos
Proved to be a great servant to Michael Scudamore last season, after initially winning on handicap debut from a mark of 102 this time last year, he’s progressed up through the ranks to his current OR of 145.
Flat on his reappearance in a Cheltenham novice hurdle this campaign, but won his last two chase starts at the back end of last season, including a defeat of Blue Flight at Kelso which now reads quite well. That being said, he was soundly beaten off a much lower mark on his only try in a race close to this quality at Cheltenham on New Years’ Day and his overall body of form suggest he’ll be out of his depth in this field.
19. Joe Farrell
2018 Scottish National winner who was a good second in a C&D veterans’ event last March and looked to be operating at a similar level when a close third in another veterans’ chase at Chepstow last time out. Big, strong, old fashioned staying type that is ideally suited by a galloping track by Newbury- he won here on final start prior to taking the Scottish National- but he’ll need every inch of the trip here and probably lacks the speed necessary to compete with some younger, classier types.
20. Regal Encore
Third in this race back in 2017 and has always been capable of producing good placed efforts in big handicaps, including when second in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot last time out.
Doesn’t possess the zip of a couple of the others in this race and will want them to be finishing as slow as possible, but I’ve found Regal Encore can often be underestimated in this sort of race- over the last few seasons, he’s placed in Graded or Class 2 handicaps at odds of 66s, 20s, 14s, twice at 12s, as well as winning the Ascot Silver Cup at 20s and a six runner renewal of the Swinley Chase at 6s.
Given that last time he ran well enough to conclude that his current mark of 143, which is the lowest it’s been since the 15/16 season, isn’t an unfair burden, for me he’s the outsider I find most interesting, especially considering that this year’s renewal doesn’t contain as many potentially unexposed second season chasers as the race usually does, so the door could well be open for an older, slower type to outrun their odds.
Whilst sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason as to whether Regal Encore fires or not, I think his best price of 50-1 underestimate the likelihood of him being in the first four home, and though I’d acknowledge he rates as an unlikely winner, I’d be keen to keep him on the each-way shortlist at the prices.
21. Shantou Village
Failed to complete on each of his last three starts, though he wasn’t out of contention when unseating in the Kerry National last time. Barring that though, his recent profile has suggested a horse in regression, with his last win only coming in Class 3 company at Worcester in summer 2018.
Questions also have to asked about his ability to go well on softer ground- he’s done a lot of summer jumping and has been primarily campaigned on good ground. He seems safe enough to rule out.
Gained a victory at this level when taking the 888sport Chase at Kempton in February, but hasn’t really kicked on from that as connections would’ve hoped he would and proved disappointing until taking advantage of a drop back into a Class 3 when winning again at Taunton earlier this month.
Now only 1lb above the mark that saw him win the Kempton race- but this is a much harder task again and he’d need a career best to figure.
23. The Conditional
Remained a maiden over fences in Ireland for Martin Hassett, for whom his best effort came when fourth in the Leinster National. Gained his first chase success on his second attempt for David Bridgwater at Cheltenham last time out and looked a much improved performer in holding off West Approach.
Certainly deserves a crack at a big prize like this off the back of that effort, and shouldn’t have any with the track or trip, though he probably needs to take an even bigger step forward than he did last time to take this.
Won his first two chase starts at Warwick and Sandown last season but was well beaten on his return this year at Bangor.
This represents a massive step up in quality compared to the races he’s been contesting, and nothing on his form suggests he’s capable of winning at this level.
4th- Regal Encore
3rd- Elegant Escape
2nd- Ok Corral