The most valuable handicap hurdle of the season sees a maximum field of 24 at Newbury and has a rich history.
Recent renewals have seen some high-class winners with the talents of Zarkandar and My Tent Or Yours claiming the top honours.
This year’s heat is very competitive with a number of useful sorts taking their chances and maybe enhancing their profiles before a spin around Prestbury Park next month.
The last ten runnings of this race have seen no horse carrying more than 11st 2lbs win. My Tent Or Yours carried that weight to victory back in 2013 for trainer Nicky Henderson, who has won this race five times and is well represented this time around.
The Lambourn trainer has two live chances with Jenkins and Kayf Grace.
Jenkins is lumbered with a 5lb penalty for his success in a Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle at Ascot last month when scoring in taking fashion over the extended 2m3f trip.
He’s a quirky sort but the blinkers he’s worn on his last two starts seem to have straightened him out and he’s two from two with the headgear on. However, the weight he’s carrying is a slight issue given past trends but the talented James Bowen in the saddle taking 3lb off is something that could help his cause.
Of the duo, I, like a number of others, think there is plenty of untapped potential left from the mare Kayf Grace. She is on an upward curve after winning with plenty in hand at Kempton last time and a mark of 140 doesn’t look to be her ceiling.
She was a smart bumper performer who claimed the Grade 2 Mares Bumper at Aintree beating some useful rivals in Augusta Kate (now rated 144), Shattered Love (143 over fences) and La Bague Au Roi (152).
Given this is usually run at a fair gallop then that should help her jumping and if she puts in a polished round then she won’t be far away.
Despite being an eight-year-old she still hasn’t shown her full potential and she is one that’ll start shorter than she currently is.
This is usually a race where I look for runners with a prominent or front-running angle. Ballyandy came through from midfield last year but prior to that the likes of Agrapart, Violet Dancer and Splash Of Ginge had made all or being towards the fore.
The likes of Waterlord, Lough Derg Spirit and Remiluc are likely to go forward early on, as will the unexposed Knocknanuss.
He’s showed signs of greenness over his short hurdling career and he raced keenly with an awkward head carriage at Fontwell last time but still was a facile winner. Let’s be clear that wasn’t the strongest of contests but with a better tempo here it could help him settle down.
The more he’s run, the more he’s learnt and he did seem to have a bit of an engine on him when claiming that Class 3 race last time. This is a marked step up in grade and he’s up 11lb for that success but he ticks quite a few boxes.
Jamie Moore will be looking to get a prominent pitch, to hopefully settle him into a nice rhythm. His jumping has been fairly sound so far and he does look a nice type for Gary Moore – a trainer that has won this three times in the past.
I’m sure he’s still improving and with only six career starts under rules then he hasn’t shown his full hand, especially with his form coming at the smaller southern tracks. He might prove to be better than his current mark of 135.
Another who can go from the front is High Bridge, who is three from three over this course and distance.
He was triumphant in the Listed Gerry Feilden Hurdle before Christmas when allowed to dictate matters from the front and holding off Charli Parcs to win by over one length.
Conditions should suit for another bold bid from this son of Monsun for a trainer in Ben Pauling who is hitting some form. Pauling had been going through a tough spell but has enjoyed a good week with four winners, so his fortunes may be starting to turn.
Irish Roe is well treated and finds herself 11lb well in. She was a close-up second at Doncaster two-weeks ago in the Grade 2 Mares Hurdle when running out of time to reel in Maria’s Benefit.
Peter Atkinson’s charge is a reliable performer with solid jumping and gears to quicken in the latter stages. If Henry Brooke doesn’t get too far back on her then she is one that could loom large late on.
Dorset handler Harry Fry is having a quiet time of things but usually, his runners start to come good around this time of year.
He’s one that has enjoyed success at Newbury in the past and his last runners in this came back in 2015 when Activial finished third and Jolly’s Cracked It ended in fifth.
This year, he saddles Misterton, who showed plenty of positive signs last season in Novice Hurdles and he continued that when he returned to the track back in October when scoring at Chepstow.
The son of Sagamix took that form to another level when going down by just a neck in the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle. That performance is probably worth marking up given this seven-year-old set the fractions and was able to keep going to fend off a number of challengers – all but Elgin.
That race looks a strong renewal with Old Guard, The New One and the previously mentioned Jenkins all having won since. He’s been put up 5lb for that excellent effort but off 142 he looks to have definite claims.
With this grey having stamina in abundance he can follow similar tactics to see if he can get his rivals under the pump from an early stage in the race.
Despite the dry spell, Fry is having his inmate cannot be discounted because conditions will suit and with him being a strong stayer he can gutsily stick on for a place at the minimum.
The final one to mention is Kalashnikov, who could still be a player in one of the novice races at Cheltenham.
Just four starts, notching three wins but was beaten last time out in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle. However, the heavy ground that day may have taken his explosive turn of foot away from him, so on the slightly better ground, he is likely to fare better.
This is the five-year-olds handicap debut and he’s off a mark of 141, which looks fair on what he’s shown and potential. He’s steadily improved throughout the season and if the rain stays away then he can be a major player.
- Misterton (22/1)
- Knocknanuss (12/1)
- Kayf Grace (12/1)
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