Clan-tastic card at Chepstown
While the focus is elsewhere on Saturday, there's a card at Chepstow which looks sure to throw up winners. We take a look.
Sam Twiston-Davies riding Clan Des Obeaux
The Grade Three handicap later on might be more valuable, and there's a Cheltenham Festival winner running in the four-year-old hurdle, but the totequadpot Novices' Chase might be the most interesting race on Saturday's card at Chepstow.
On the roll-of-honour are Cue Card, Fingal Bay and Balder Succes and with an unexposed four-year-old adding intrigue, this year's small but select field could go on to scale much greater heights in time.
Here's our take on each of them.
"Flying Angel is a great prospect and he will be entered in all the best novice chases. He jumped beautifully today and I couldn´t be more pleased. We´ll look at a novices race at Cheltenham over two and a half miles but he has so much speed he could easily drop back to two miles." Nigel Twiston-Davies after Perth win in September
Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and long been considered a chaser in the making. Could hardly have made a more impressive start, winning head-in-chest at Perth after a near six-month absence thanks to particularly impressive round of jumping. As a hurdler, followed impressive Imperial Cup win with second in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham just days later, before advertising his constitution with third place behind Yorkhill upped to the top grade at Aintree. No surprise, in light of those achievements, that he still holds a World Hurdle entry but that's very much Plan B and more likely long-term target may well be the JLT Novices' Chase, for which he's a best of 25/1. So far best on soft ground but relatives to have won did so under faster conditions and there's no reason he won't adapt. Likely to be highly tried and as a five-year-old there's much more to come.
"He's in the Coral Cup and has had a wind operation since he last raced. He could run well." Nicky Henderson prior to the 2015 Cheltenham Festival
An eight-year-old, Hammersly Lake is playing catch-up with some of these but that Coral Cup run in 2015, when he finished sixth off a mark of 144, remains an indication of his promise. Sent of 4/6 favourite for his chasing debut last winter but came to grief and was sidelined for almost a year, returning in July with a promising spin over hurdles before impressing returned to fences, beating Rejaah by 12 lengths conceding lumps of weight. That form comparable to Flying Angel, who beat the same rival slightly further, conceding slightly less, and should serve as a confidence-booster given that he'd previously failed to get his head in front for Nicky Henderson despite several good efforts. Evidently fragile and has his quirks and if he does return to the Cheltenham Festival, it may be in one of the handicaps again.
"Jerry (McGrath) said Theinval really prospered on the summer ground and we might keep him going for a bit." Owner Sandy Orr following Uttoxeter win in May
The most experienced of these over fences and ran well when favourite for the Summer Plate off a mark of 144 (dropped 1lb since). That came on the back of ready Uttoxeter win when connections confirmed that good ground suits, and was a further step forward after just a modest debut over fences. Ahead of Rock The Kasbah at Cheltenham but had previously been a long way behind that rival at Ascot and probably flattered by peak rating of 151, one earned via a handicap win at Aintree off 144 last year. Probably has the least scope of all of these and it'll be disappointing if he's good enough.
"Our Kaempfer is a difficult horse. He ran away going to the start in the Champion bumper last season and did it again with Aidan (Coleman) at Ascot. So you have to ride him like that, and it´s always a bit tricky for if one kicks on then you can´t do much about it. He jumps well so he´ll be going chasing, but he likes this good ground so if he wins another with a penalty we´ll think about going to Aintree." Charlie Longsdon, trainer, after first novice hurdle win in February 2015
Off since good fifth in the Pertemps Final, a race he was kept back for after being brought down when going well at Haydock just under a year ago. Those runs suggested he's ready to fulfil his potential having long been highly-regarded but, as the quote above attests to, never having been particularly easy to manage. Looks well-handicapped over hurdles off 140 despite having yet to win out of novice company but switch to fences has always been the plan. Trainer is making his now expected flying start to the campaign and this horse does go well fresh, but on hurdles form has a bit to find while trip is also on the sharp side.
Rock The Kasbah
"Richard (Johnson) said Rock The Kasbah has grown up this year and is a completely different horse. He will probably go for the Coral Cup but the only thing is he does need soft ground." Sarah Hobbs, wife of trainer Philip, following Ascot win in January
Progressive last term and sent off 15/2 for the Coral Cup, albeit running no sort of race behind same owner's Diamond King. Also disappointing at Aintree when upped to three miles (trip no excuse) and now has questions to answer. Still, his hurdles form is among the best of these and both trainer and jockey Tom O'Brien described him as a horse who will make a lovely chaser this season, comments supported by his physique. Watering of the ground at Chepstow certainly in his favour – there might still be concerns it's too quick for him – and stays the trip, while he made his reappearance at this meeting last season when running a good race to finish second in a handicap hurdle which worked out really well. Clearly, he was thrown-in at the time but does appear to go well fresh and if back to his best sets the standard on hurdles form. Not quoted in any ante-post lists and probably a horse for high-quality handicaps in the fullness of time, but size means could yet improve beyond them.
Clan Des Obeaux
"Clan Des Obeaux is a chasing-bred horse and he´s the mirror of As De Mee, just the type of horse we like. He´s an embryonic chaser and could run at Cheltenham at the end of January on soft ground, but won´t be running in a Triumph on fast ground. We´ll mind him." Paul Nicholls after Newbury win on first run for the yard
The only four-year-old in the line-up, Clan Des Obeaux has quickly been sent over fences by Paul Nicholls, who throughout last season appeared desperate to wrap this horse in cotton wool. First start for the yard saw him cruise round to win by 21 lengths at Newbury and while beaten in Triumph Hurdle trial afterwards, was sent to run in the main event despite the trainer having at least one eye on the future. Sixth there perfectly solid and should be much more to come now tackling fences, enough to see him graduate beyond a hurdles rating of 144. Quoted at 25/1 for the JLT and immediate step up in distance over fences suggests future does lie over trips beyond two miles.Trainer did win December Gold Cup with a four-year-old, Unioniste, but that one had run over fences in France and likely to be kept to novice company as he climbs the ladder. Indeed Nicholls put forward Clan Des Obeaux as one of his five-to-follow for Betfair, saying: "National Hunt-bred and was never, ever going to be a Triumph horse – he's a chaser. He's matured enormously during the summer and has jumped fences incredibly well in the schooling we've done with him. One I'm really looking forward to." The most exciting of these and could have a big future.
Four of the last five winners of this race were making their debuts over fences, and Clan Des Obeaux can add his name to that list. The four-year-old is an exciting prospect for this season and with Paul Nicholls' string starting the season proper in red-hot form, he could be hard to beat in receipt of so much weight. Rock The Kasbah sets the standard on hurdles form but Flying Angel may be a bigger threat, with the benefit of an impressive chase debut just a couple of weeks ago and some classy, progressive hurdles form. Hammersly Lake is the pick of the Henderson pair but neither Theinval nor Our Kaempfer can be confidently ruled out in a race which should produce winners.
The rest of the card
2.05 – Capeland
This race went the way of subsequent Sky Bet Supreme winner Altior last year. Capeland is 33/1 to complete the same journey and should be hard to beat on debut over timber having wisely been kept away from the Champion Bumper. Related to smart hurdler Urano and again, Nicholls' string are flying. Danger Call To Order has had his debut over hurdles franked by the winner.
2.40 – Colin's Sister
Taken out of an intended engagement at Hereford on Thursday. Yet to win, but smart placed form in Listed bumpers last year sees her quoted at 33/1 for the Mares' Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Looks to hold a fine chance here with form rivals both conceding weight to her, although also worth keeping an eye out for Queens Well in a first-time tongue-strap after a quite taking bumper success, albeit that form hasn't worked out.
3,50 – Diego Du Charmil
Nicholls bids for his fifth victory in 10 renewals with Fred Winter winner, who may have found the ground against him when flopping at Aintree thereafter. That win at Cheltenham was his first start for the yard and had been a strong word for him off a mark of 133; revised rating of 138 still looks generous. Ground conditions also look ideal and while this is pretty competitive, he's the one they all have to beat.
4.25 – Ballyoptic
Won Grade One at Aintree which went to Thistlecrack the previous year and does hold a World Hurdle entry, despite being considered a chaser in the making. That victory means he's three-from-three for Twiston-Davies and came at the expense of Bellshill, who went on to win the Grade One at Punchestown. With the prospect of more to come he's an exciting horse albeit this is a very tough starting point.
5.00 – Henryville
All sorts to consider but Southfield Vic will likely start favourite given that he's rated 10lb lower than his peak hurdles mark and brings solid recent form to the table. Henryville, brought down when challenging in the Summer Plate last time, also appeals and could offer better value. Fourth in the 2015 Pertemps Final off 152, he races from a mark of 144 and looks up to going very close on that Market Rasen run. Harry Fry's few recent runners have all performed to their ability and with Southfield Vic making the market, Henryville can reward each-way support.
5.35 – Pure Poteen
A low-key end to a fine card and it's worth taking a chance on Pure Poteen winning this race for the second year running. He's now 5lb lower than when a convincing winner 12 months ago and while there are reasons for that, he wasn't beaten far on his penultimate start over fences before being teed up for this with a spin over hurdles last time. Dangers are all over the card but watch out for Golden Milan, who goes well fresh and is thrown in on his best.