The four-mile National Hunt Chase could be a viable target for DUEL AT DAWN (Best price 9-4) later in the campaign given his predilection for a battle in deep ground, however the son of Presenting needs to be winning a race of this nature before those lofty aspirations can be realised. Although comfortably beaten by Sizing Tennessee at the line at Cheltenham last time, his conqueror has since gone on to push Yanworth to the limits in the Dipper Chase on New Year’s Day so the bare form of that performance may prove better than first imagined. Some decent staying novices have won this contest in the past and Duel At Dawn could easily add his name to that roll call today.Bet £10 get £20
SYKES (best price 12-1) recorded one of the best runs of his career at Cheltenham last time when narrowly overhauled by Arthur’s Gift and could prove the answer even if he has been raised 13lb since winning comfortably at Ffos Las in November. Trainer Nicky Martin has done an excellent with the nine-year-old who has made giant strides this term – an achievement which hasn’t been lost on the assessor. The ability to grind away in winter ground will be of paramount importance this afternoon and I was taken with the way Sykes kept galloping once he was passed by his conqueror at Prestbury Park, while he also looks to be thriving for the association with rider Matt Griffiths.
COUNT MERIBEL (Best price 5-2) could arguably have won at Cheltenham with a slightly more conservative ride but he has the opportunity to gain compensation here. Previously unbeaten this season in three starts right handed, Count Meribel was asked to go for home a long way out on his latest start and paid the penalty late on when picked off after the last hurdle. Although beaten at this track last spring, he has improved markedly since and should be tough to beat if running to a similar level of his wins this term. Handsome Hereford winner Paisley Park looks a threat at a price.
A brutal test of stamina is just the order of the day for KRACKATOA KING (Best price 9-1) given he doesn’t do anything quickly but does at least boast a course victory on his cv. The selection is a dour galloper who handles deep ground so should be ideally suited by the rigours of this race and his yard, which have won this race previously, went close in the Welsh National with a similar type in Alfie Spinner last weekend. Richard Patrick is definitely a conditional rider to keep on side and this looks to have been the plan since the start of the season for the Herefordshire raider.
Fans of WAITING PATIENTLY (Best price 7-4) have been forced to do just that since his smooth Carlisle comeback triumph, but the wait should be worth it if the progressive seven-year-old can build on that reappearance. Yet to be beaten in four starts with Brian Hughes aboard, the selection proved he is equally as effective right-handed with that win, while his list of victims from last winter also include Politologue and Forest Bihan so he is clearly ready for a step up in class. The admirable Smad Place could ensure there is a reasonable gallop and a strong pace may expose the technique of God’s Own which sometimes takes on a life of its own.
It looks safe to presume RIVER FROST (Best price 6-1) has been saved for a tilt at the Lanzarote Hurdle given his unbeaten track record. The talented six-year-old hasn’t been seen since catching the eye at Chepstow on his seasonal return in a valuable handicap which could barely have worked out any better. Seven individual runners from that contest have produced eleven victories, including Sam Spinner who now resides in a prominent position in the market for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival.
Unfortunately for connections, the handicapper also felt River Frost emerged with plenty of credit from his trip across the Severn Bridge as he was nudged up 3lb to today’s mark of 145, a move which meant his trainer needed to preserve his rating to run him this afternoon. Thankfully, the selection boasts a good record fresh and conditions look perfect for him to deliver a prominent performance as he was only beaten eight lengths in last year’s Coral Cup and was impressive in both previous visits to the Sunbury venue.
I can’t really make a compelling case for DENTLEY DE MEE (Best price 25-1) on form, but then neither could I for Esprit De Somoza at Huntingdon yesterday but it didn’t stop him winning at 20-1. Obviously, trainer Nick Williams is back among the winners, but he also boasts an unparalleled record in this race, winning it three times from as many runners in the past decade. The stable’s modus operandi is to bring along their horses considerately so I can’t resist having a small each-way play on a horse which has been patiently handled, targeted at this race and enjoys going right handed.
In the hope this race doesn’t represent two falls and a submission for FOUNTAINS WINDFALL (Best price 6-5) then he is taken to put his career back on track. Taking on experienced handicappers is an interesting way to go by connections, but it is fair to say their novice has jumped well in the main but has been more than a shade unfortunate to tip up the last twice. Fountains Windfall was still going as well as anything four fences from home at Kempton in Grade One company when capsizing and he is fancied to put the record straight here.