Stuart Williams has an in-depth look at the Marsh Chase at Aintree on Friday.
Marsh Chase Preview
This race has been won by some of racing brightest stars over the last ten years, with champion chasers Master Minded and Sprinter Sacre preceding subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Don Cossack, whom defeated fan-favourite Cue Card in 2015.
Paul Nicholls' saddled the former of that top-class trio and the master of Ditcheat holds the record for the most winners (3) in this Grade 1 contest alongside long-term adversary Nicky Henderson.
The eleven time champion trainer will launch a three-pronged attack tomorrow spearheaded by his former champion chaser Politologue, whom plundered this prize in 2018 before placing second 12 months later.
The classy grey will bid to become just the sixth horse in history to land this race on more than one occasion, following in the footsteps of former greats such as Viking Flagship, Direct Route, Native Upmanship, Moscow Flyer and Voy Por Ustedes.
However, Politologue will have plenty of competition in this open looking contest and the 'freshness angle' may not be the way to play this race given that each of the last 18 winners had competed at the previous month's Cheltenham Festival, with 12 lining up in the Champion Chase and 6 taking part in the Ryanair Chase.
That statistic would whittle this race down to just Ryanair Chase runner-up Fakir D'Oudaries and Champion Chase seventh Notebook, although Duc Des Genievres would warrant a small mention given that he is the only other contender in the field whom took his chance at Cheltenham last month (Grand Annual).
That said, all eight contenders are worthy of closer scrutiny before jumping to any conclusions. So let's run the microscope over each in market order.
Marsh Chase Runners
Fakir D'oudaries chased home the hugely impressive Allaho in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last month, and he is arguably the form pick as a result. However, that race was contested at a frenetic gallop and he has only had three weeks to recover.
Furthermore, three of his four career victories have been achieved on testing ground and the form of Joseph O'Brien's string leaves much to be desired. Indeed, many of his inmates ran below form at Cheltenham and, at the time of writing, he is 0-37 in the last 14 days, which has to be a concern given Fakir D'oudaries' price heading into a Grade 1 contest.
On a more positive note, the Kapgarde gelding was only beaten a neck by Pentland Hills in the 2019 Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle on his only previous visit to Aintree and his solitary Grade 1 success was achieved over two-and-a-half-miles in the 2019 Drinmore Novice Chase. While it is also worth remembering that the last 18 winners of this race had all run at the Cheltenham Festival, 6 of whom contested the Ryanair Chase.
However, I would be happy to look elsewhere given his short price and list of negatives.
Politologue won this race in 2018 before chasing home a bang-in-form Min 12 months later, and he has arguably took his form to a higher level in the meantime given his runaway Champion Chase success in 2020.
John Hales classy grey looked every bit as good on his seasonal reappearance in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and, like at Cheltenham last March, Paul Nicholls was quick to attribute that success to the various changes that were made to his training regime and the significant gap between races.
With that in mind, it may be a blessing in disguise that Politologue was an eleventh hour absentee at Cheltenham last month, which means that he has had 76 days to recover from his runner-up effort in January's Clarence House Chase.
The Poliglote gelding boasts form-figures of U1114211 following a break of 52 days or more and clearly enjoys this course and distance. Therefore another solid run looks likely.
Master Tommytucker has developed into a solid graded chaser over the course of this season, building upon a smooth success in the Grade 2 Silvinaco Conti Chase at Kempton with a narrow defeat in the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase.
The lightly raced son of Kayf Tara fell in three of his first four starts over fences and has displayed a tendency to make at least one significant mistake during his races. However, he has successfully completed the course on all six of his outings this season and he is clearly well suited by small field contest, with five of his six career victories coming in single-figure fields (the exception being a ten runner race).
Three of those six victories were achieved on decent ground and Sam Twiston-Davies guided the imposing ten-year-old to success at Haydock in November, which is clearly advantageous given that he isn't the easiest of rides.
Master Tommytucker is another contender whom may benefit from sidestepping last month's Cheltenham Festival and his official mark of 160 puts him firmly in the mix.
Dashel Drasher has improved out of all recognition this season and arrives on the crest of a wave following a maiden Grade 1 success in the 1 Betfair Ascot Chase, when battling on bravely to see off the aforementioned Master Tommytucker in a slow motion charge to the line.
Jeremy Scott's homebred has won his last three starts over that same course and distance climbing 19lbs in the handicap to a rating of 162, which makes him the joint-second highest rated horse in this contest.
All three of those victories have been achieved on testing ground, however, four of his five career triumphs have come on decent ground and, like his aforementioned rivals Politologue and Master Tommytucker, he will arrive here fresh after sidestepping last months Cheltenham Festival.
Going left-handed should not be an issue given that he has previously been successful at Cheltenham, Haydock, Chepstow and Newbury, and the progressive son of Passing Glance is clearly thriving at present, which makes him a fascinating contender.
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Dual Grade 1 winning novice Notebook kicked off his second season over fences with a decisive success over the aforementioned Fakir D'Oudaries in the Grade 2 Poplar Chase at Naas in November. However, he proved no match for the classy Chacun Pour Soi on his next two visits the racetrack and he only beat two rivals home in the Champion Chase last month.
This will be the first time that the scopey son of Samum has competed over a trip in excess of two-miles-and-one-furlong over fences, and he could easily improve for the extra yardage. While the decent ground is certainly a positive and he will be assisted by regular rider Rachael Blackmore.
There is perhaps a question mark hanging over his ability to travel, although that may be slightly harsh given that he has contested Grade 1 heats at each of the last three Cheltenham Festivals, and it is perhaps worth nothing the impressive record of those whom competed in the previous month's Champion Chase (12 winners in the last 18 renewals).
Nuts Well hasn't been sighted since defeating subsequent Grade 3 scorer Clondaw Castle in a warm renewal of the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase over this course and distance in October. However, that absence may well be a positive given that he boasts form-figures of 2122151 following a break of 84 days or more.
Ann Hamilton's stable stable posted a brace of career best efforts during the autumn, successfully conceding 3lbs to subsequent Ladbrokes Trophy and Sky Bet Chase runner-up Aye Right on his seasonal reappearance at Kelso, before following-up in the aforementioned Old Roan Chase at Aintree three weeks later.
Those efforts suggest that the lightly raced ten-year-old is well and truly at the peak of his powers at present, and the decent ground that he will encounter tomorrow will also be in his favour.
Ann Hamilton has saddled two winners from as many runners in the last two weeks and Nuts Well has been targeted at this meeting for some time following a succession of small setbacks - both physical and ground related - during the winter months.
That may have been a blessing in disguise given both his preference for better ground and record when fresh, and he is certainly an intriguing contender whom should not be underestimated.
Itchy Feet placed third behind the aforementioned Nuts Well and subsequent Grade 3 scorer Clondaw Castle in the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase at Aintree in October before chasing home Imperial Aura in Grade 2 company at Ascot and the rapidly progressive Dashel Drasher over the same course and distance in December.
Olly Murphy's Grade 1 winning novice chaser didn't appear to stay the 3 mile trip when reverting to the smaller obstacles in the Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock in February, however, dropping back to two-and-a-half-miles on better ground could easily see him return to form.
Indeed, his chasing form has been boosted since he was last sighted over fences and Olly Murphy has his string in fine form at present. Therefore Itchy Feet could easily outperform market expectations.
DUC DES GENIEVRES:
Duc Des Genievres made last months Champion Chase heroine Put The Kettle On pull out all of the stops in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November and he was far from disgraced in placing seventh under 11-9 in the ultra competitive Grand Annual in the Cotswolds last month.
However, Paul Nicholls' eight-year-old has failed to kick-on since his Arkle success in 2019 and his solitary success over this trip was achieved in a beginners chase. The decent ground may also be against him, and he makes little appeal in this grade.
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2018 hero Politologue clearly goes well over this course and distance and is seen to best effect when fresh, which makes him a likely contender tomorrow. While stablemate Master Tommytucker is improving with every start and could easily go well if putting in a clear round.
Fakir D'Oudaries has plenty of potential over this trip and could easily go close if at the peak of his powers. However, he does have questions to answer and his short price hardly reflects that. While NOTEBOOK, whom will represent the Cheltenham Festival dream team of Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore, will attempt to enhance the already impressive record of those whom competed in the previous month's Champion Chase.
Indeed, both Irish raiders qualify on the aforementioned statistic regarding the last 18 winners of this contest, however, preference would be for the latter, whom successfully conceded 7lbs to the former as a novice last season (Grade 1) and again had his measure at Naas in November.
Henry De Bromhead's charge has twice bumped into a top class rival, namely Chacun Pour Soi, over two-miles-and-one-furlong this season - finishing in advance of stablemate and subsequent champion chaser Put The Kettle On at Christmas - and he was only beaten a shade over 9 lengths in last month's Champion Chase, which is perhaps a better run than the bare form would suggest.
Stepping-up to two-and-a-half-miles on decent ground could easily suit and Aintree may play to his strengths more than Cheltenham. He is therefore a interesting contender.
Dashel Drasher is clearly thriving at present and could easily go close if fully recovered from his Grade 1 success in the Betfair Ascot Chase. However, he will need to be equally as effective both on decent ground and going left-handed - which doesn't look to be an issue judged on his historical form.
NUTS WELL has had anything but a clear run this season, however, he posted a career best effort when defying top-weight in a competitive renewal of the Grade 2 Old Roan Chase over this course and distance in October and his record when fresh (2122151 after a break of 84 days or more) makes him a tempting each-way proposition.
Ann Hamilton has sent out two winners from as many runners in the last two weeks and the ground will be perfect for her stable star, whom is lightly raced for his age and is seemingly peaking at present.
No horse has defied double digits since the mighty Moscow Flyer landed back-to-back renewals in 2004 and 2005. However, while this is a competitive renewal, there is no superstar lurking and Nuts Well could easily outperform market expectations.