Classic Chase: Horse-by-horse
A maximum field of 20 has been declared for the Betfred Classic Chase at Warwick on Saturday – here's our guide to the line-up.
Russe Blanc beats Midnight Prayer in last year's renewal of the Classic Chase.
First staged in 1974, the Betfred Classic Chase struggled to beat the weather for many of its first scheduled years, and the cold conditions may also be an issue this weekend – although officials are hopeful of beating the forecast snow and frost.
Those looking at past statistical trends might be intrigued by the excellent record of female trainers in the race – the likes of Venetia Williams, Emma Lavelle, Kerry Lee, Jenny Pitman and Henrietta Knight have all saddled winners and, in 1993, Rosemary Henderson both rode and trained Fiddlers Pike to score.
Here's our guide to this year's contenders:
Vivaldi Collonges: Well placed to win three of his four starts last season, going up the weights as a result, and clearly an improved performer for going over fences and up in distance. Understandably fancied first time out in four-runner intermediate chase at Sandown in November, but jumped poorly and showed little sparkle. Wouldn't be without a chance here if wellbeing was assured, but has little in hand of the handicapper and it will require a serious effort to defy top-weight against potentially better-treated rivals.
Houblon Des Obeaux: Tough, old-fashioned staying chaser, who belied big odds to run third in big-field handicap chase at Cheltenham on belated return to action (late absentee from Hennessy due to ground). Enjoyed arguably his greatest day when winning Denman Chase just three starts ago, and far from impossibly handicapped on best form (second to Many Clouds in 2014 Hennessy off 5lb higher). This is a big ask, but he's not to be opposed lightly.
Doctor Harper: Took the eye in three novice chases last season and became a Cheltenham Festival talking horse, going off favourite for one of the big handicaps, but unseating two out after only a fair showing. Answered a few questions – not least about stamina – when good second back there in staying handicap last time out, pushing Tour Des Champs all the way. Handicapper's response of a 7lb hike must have been tough to swallow for connections, but chance certainly looks better with that big run under his belt and may yet have more to offer.
Milansbar: Thorough stayer, who lost interest after early howler in Welsh National last time. Usually a sound jumper and 2lb drop in the weights no bad thing. Good second in Midlands National (would have been third but for last-fence faller) at end of last season and handles very testing conditions. Should be in the mix and may be better suited than many if conditions turn bottomless.
Sego Success: Good winner on this card two years ago but things have not gone to plan at all times since. Sent off favourite for this race 12 months ago but fell at second and shade disappointing twice afterwards. Better first time out at Bangor this season, but looked hard work at Doncaster last time and no surprise at all to see connections reach for blinkers in a bid to buck his ideas up. Given that cheekpieces worked first time out last season for his only win in last two years, it wouldn't be the biggest surprise if they produced the desired result.
Shotgun Paddy: Bottomless stamina, ground can't be soft enough for him, and one to take seriously if able to get into a rhythm towards the front at his own pace – as was the case when winning this race in 2014 and finishing third in 2015. Efforts since have been more of a mixed bag, but showed up for a long way in Cheltenham handicap on recent return and stable in much better form now than was the case last season. Can't be ruled out.
Viva Steve: Failed to fulfil early potential for previous connections and sold at end of last season. Looked an altogether different prospect on first start for Fergal O'Brien and has avoided a couple of possible alternative options to run here. Off a career-high mark, his chance very much depends upon him being a totally different horse this season – but that's by no means improbable. However, this will be the biggest test of his stamina he has ever faced and at the prices he's surely opposable on that basis alone.
One For Arthur: Late-maturing type who did well in his first season over fences, despite form slightly tapering off in the spring. Seemingly had a good summer though and was well-backed before winning at Ayr first time out then quietly fancied for Becher Chase, in which he ran a cracker, nursed into contention from the rear before being beaten only three lengths into fifth. Looks sure to appreciate this additional stamina test and must be a player.
Mountainous: Dual Welsh National winner, who ideally wants to be running through jelly to help his remorseless gallop. Didn't shape too badly before being pulled up first time back in action at Sandown but subsequent run on hat-trick bid at Chepstow less forgiveable, for all that conditions would have been too quick. Every chance he simply isn't as good as he was and hard to go overboard about his prospects here, unless the weather gods become particularly angry.
Kaki De La Pree: Always looked as if this would be his game and very few miles on the clock given his age. Probably bumped into one at Bangor on only previous start this season (pair clear) and every chance this stiffer test of stamina will suit him. Must be respected for trainer who could well have had this race in mind for ages.
Goodtoknow: Clear-cut Wetherby success in the mud last season both blew his rating away and belied previous impression that he was better suited to faster conditions. Still not entirely exposed, but hasn't promised a great deal in two runs this season and first-time blinkers need to have a major effect. Stable won this last year.
Knockanrawley: Likeable performer who looked as good as ever when producing typically gutsy effort to finish third at Cheltenham on latest start. Didn't seem to quite home in Eider over extended four miles last season and every chance this trip could be ideal. Realistically handicapped and very much one for the shortlist.
Midnight Prayer: Gutsy winner of the National Hunt Chase in 2014 from Shotgun Paddy (and great to see both still going strong here). Again ran well at the Festival last year in Kim Muir, having chased home Russe Blanc in this race previously. Excuses available for all three runs this season and didn't shape that badly at Haydock given wholly inadequate test of stamina. Could be worth considering at a decent price.
Emperor's Choice: Always been an all-or-nothing type and been much more nothing than all in both starts this season. Has eased in the weights as a result but still hard to see him being able to dominate in this big field and suspicion is that this sort of contest will prove beyond him these days.
Russe Blanc: Battled bravely to win this 12 months ago at a time when his trainer could do nothing wrong, but things have not gone to plan since and comes here with major questions to answer over his present wellbeing. Remarkable faith required to back him for a repeat.
Ballycross: Almost impossible to get a handle on him after just four starts over fences. Comprehensively put in his place in a novice chase by Thistlecrack at Cheltenham (as might have been expected), but two subsequent efforts in novice handicap chases at Chepstow have been pretty respectable. More needed now for this very different test, but impossible to say he won't find it.
Bob Ford: Plenty to find with some of these rivals on various formlines from last season, but very talented horse on his day as he showed when finishing alone in impossible conditions at Ffos Las a couple of seasons ago. Didn't shape that badly in the Becher Chase last time and although he needs to turn form around with One For Arthur, possible to see him getting involved.
Kingswell Theatre: Balloted out from Welsh National after promising comeback effort at Chepstow, but failed to show much at Cheltenham subsequently and overall balance of form suggests he may struggle.
Spookydooky: Fair fourth in Midlands National last season and 10lb lower in weights now. Might have done better but for jumping error at key point at Cheltenham last time and looks the type to win again sooner rather than later – possibly in easier company than this though.
Rigadin de Beauchene: Winner of this race in 2013 and victory in heavy going at Haydock this time last season off similar mark suggests he has some sort of a chance again here, even if only run so far this season offered limited encouragement. Chance absolutely dependent upon ground conditions though.
Sartorial Elegance: Reserve.
First and foremost, it's to be hoped that this race beats the weather as, for staying chase aficionados, it features all of required ingredients – soft ground, fences and a load of old friends. I see the appeal of Viva Steve, but this can be an attritional affair, with low numbers of finishers very much common and therefore a new type of test. I prefer Scottish raider One For Arthur, who ran very well in the Becher from off the pace – victory here could see him emerge a leading Grand National contender. Knockanrawley ought to give his backers a really good run for their money too.
1 One For Arthur 2 Knockanrawley 3 Midnight Prayer 4 Houblon des Obeaux.
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