Stage set for Nicholls’ Theatre

Ian Ogg previews Saturday's feature handicaps, Doncaster's Betfred November Handicap and Wincanton's Badger Ales Trophy.

Southfield Theatre has the scope for further progress


2pts win Southfield Theatre, Badger Ales Trophy

0.5pt each-way Mistiroc, Betfred November Handicap

The last three renewals of the Betfred November Handicap have been run on heavy, heavy and soft but with the weather set fair and the ground already described as good to firm, good in places, conditions are going to be rather much faster on Town Moor.

That will be bad news for any connections that have been keeping their powder dry in the hope of some inclement weather and they may include Rare Rhythm who was very well backed at Royal Ascot.

His eighth place finish in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes behind Melbourne Cup undercard winner Kinema was not a true reflection as he found trouble in running. He has the ability to win from 97 and is open to improvement after just five starts but all of his best form – from an admittedly limited sample – has come with cut in the ground.

This has not been a bad race for those towards the head of the market with no winner returned at longer than 20s and seven winning at 10/1 or lower and Wrangler could well be another after an eyecatching run over 12 furlongs here last time but he has never run on ground with firm in the official description and isn't guaranteed a run.

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Fellow Newmarket based runners Cape Cova and Higher Power – who were separated by just a neck over 14 furlongs at the last meeting here – are obvious players with the former's trainer, John Gosden, seeking his third win in this race in eight years. They have obvious claims but at this stage I'd rather have a small interest on one at a price.

Last year's first, second and fourth are potentially back for another tilt from 4lb, 4lb, and 5lb higher marks respectively and it's the latte, Mistiroc, that takes the eye. I put up John Quinn's charge for the Cesarewitch on the grounds that he is related to some strong stayers but he failed to see out the longer trip.

He was, though, in contention until two out and ran better than his finishing position suggests. Last year's testing conditions were against him yet he ran an excellent race to claim minor honours and he's worth a small each-way interest to do so again at a general 33/1.

Following his Shergar Cup win in August, connections felt that he was only just beginning to reproduce his home work on the track and that a change of tactics and a fitting of a visor had made all the difference. Things haven't gone to plan since Ascot but he's run well on all three visits to Town Moor since making his debut here and is worth another chance with conditions in his favour.

It would be nice to see The Young Master win the Bager Ales Trophy at Wincanton following his unfortunate disqualification two years ago.

He's vying for favouritism having improved to the tune of 20lbs (on official ratings) but, again, there is the possibility that the ground may be too quick for him.

There are no such concerns for Present Man who won well over two and a half miles here last month to qualify for the race. This is tougher but Paul Nicholls – who, along with David Pipe, has dominated this race – believes that he has taken time to mature as he is a big horse so it would be no surprise were he able to continue on a steep upward curve from a relatively modest base.

I am not sure that I want to play at around 9/2 to find out if he is up to the task though and I'd rather back stablemate Southfield Theatre at 7/1.

Fourth behind The Young Master at Sandown, he has a 5lb swing in the weights for just over six lengths and the suspicion is that we have yet to see the best of the eight-year-old who had a sticky last season over fences.

Runner-up to Don Poli in the 2015 RSA Chase, he was a long way below his best last autumn having picked up a bad injury at Cheltenham but shaped as though he was going to take a hand in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Festival when brought down before running well on his final start.

Nicholls' string are well forward and Southfield Theatre is sure to be ready to roll having been entered for last week's Sodexo Gold Cup. Decent ground is important to him while he has plenty of track form to his name and the suspicion is that he could prove to be quite well treated on a mark of 147 having been as high as 154.

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