Kruz can star at Haydock
Ian Ogg takes a look ahead to Saturday's 'Fixed Brush' Handicap Hurdle at Haydock Park and takes two against the field.
It's well known that Haydock's Betfair Exchange 'Fixed Brush' Handicap Hurdle has had a habit of throwing up some very smart performers and it was unfortunate that last year's winner Baradari was denied the opportunity to see if he could follow in the steps of Aubusson, Diamond Harry, Grands Crus, Dynaste and the like.
This year's entry has several runners with aspirations to reach those sorts of heights and, arguably, none more so than Born Survivor but he is set to miss the race with Dan Skelton relying on Two Taffs who is no slouch himself but certainly short enough.
Both hail from last year's winning stable and Skelton gave another example of his prowess when sending out North Hill Harvey to win last weekend's big handicap hurdle on his seasonal reappearance.
They denied a horse carrying the silks of JP McManus at Cheltenham and the legendary owner has an enviably strong hand with If In Doubt – by no means unfeasibly treated – at the top of the weights which could take a few vital pounds off the back of Unowwhatimeanharry and a couple more besides.
Harry Fry's eight-year-old enjoyed a quite remarkable last campaign but has actually been dropped by 3lbs for winning the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle which is not something you see every day. Two recent winners have defied top-weight so his burden shouldn't be a problem and there was no sign of his progress levelling off last season; there could be more to come.
Paul Nicholls is typically well represented and cases can be made for all three of his entries but for whatever reason, this isn't a race where he's enjoyed much success and no chances have been taken with his runners in the market.
The same is not true of Western Cape whose trainer Seamus Mullins reminded everyone that he was more than a match that he could mix it with the best when Song Light ran a big race to finish third in the Greatwood. Western Cape disappointed in the EBF Final at Sandown in March but returned to form with a big run at Worcester in October and the winner has gone close since.
That run will have given him a nice sighter of the brush hurdles and he looks feasibly handicapped on much of his form; 25/1 is a fair price.
Yala Enki had Westren Warrior back in second with Ibis Du Rheu third when winning the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton in January and the trio remain closely matched. All will be quite at home on testing ground but the prominent racing style of the first two may well be better suited to the tight Merseyside circuit.
They are more battle-hardened than Theo's Charm who disappointed in two handicaps after promising so much in bumpers and novice hurdles. He's not without interest but there are more solid propositions at similar prices and he has also been given an entry over fences at Ascot on Friday.
Those runners include Kruzhlinin who ran an excellent race back over hurdles at Aintree a fortnight ago when third behind Caid Du Berlais who has gone up by 8lbs.
There's every chance that his campaign is being geared around another tilt at the Grand National but this would represent a valuable early season target that shouldn't impact on his chase rating. Indeed, he's rated 10lbs lower over hurdles but these brush obstacles represent a nice halfway house.
He's unexposed in this sphere as that run at Aintree was just his seventh run over hurdles and he showed up prominently in first time blinkers until weakening in the closing stages. This test is over a slightly shorter trip which will suit on that evidence while the nine-year-old also has an excellent record in testing ground although his one disappointing run on heavy (he won the other two) did come at this venue.
The decision to fit Kruzhlinin with headgear does raise a question and it remains to be seen whether the blinkers are employed again but it's possible connections just wanted to sharpen him up after he failed to complete in the National and over fences on his reappearance.
The case then is certainly not cast iron and he doesn't have the profile of a typical winner of this race but there's more than enough meat on the bones at a general 16/1 to take a chance on a well handicapped, in-form horse who should be at home under the conditions.
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