Veterans’ Chase: Horse by Horse
There's a fabulous field of 19 for the 32Red Veterans' Chase Final at Sandown on Saturday – here's Will Hayler's horse-by-horse guide to the runners.
Aerial: Could be worth a bet in the Veterans' Chase Final.
Saturday's 32Red Veterans' Handicap Chase (3.00) has attracted a stellar, 19-strong field of popular stayers including dual Grade One winner Dynaste.
His trainer David Pipe was responsible for the winner 12 months ago when Soll held on narrowly and last year's runner-up, the Venetia Williams-trained Aachen, is back for another crack at the £100,000 prize, along with stablemate Bennys Mist, the mount of Grand National-winning jockey Liam Treadwell.
Champion jumps trainer Paul Nicholls is also double handed in the three-mile contest, which brings the 2016 Veterans' Chase Series to a conclusion, with former London National hero Rocky Creek set to be joined by Aerial, who won the Southern National at Fontwell earlier this season.
Here, our Will Hayler provides an in-depth guide to each horse in the hope of finding the winner.
SHUIL ROYALE: Unlike so many of these rivals, this horse's handicap mark is rising as the others' fall – that said, he doesn't have the miles on the clock of his counterparts and has clearly been kept back for this contest since winning a qualifier at Aintree in October. Unseasonably decent ground is in his favour and stamina no issue for the trip either, but surely there will be others better treated in this big line-up.
ROCKY CREEK: Not the easiest to predict in last few seasons, and even his trainer admitted to being stumped as to the reason for his revival last time, but on the upside two best runs in last 12 months have both come at this track and impressed with the resolution he showed when successful last time (form franked by third-home Morney Wing's subsequent Sussex National success). Essentially a question of whether he wants to do it again.
SAINT ARE: Admirable performer for many seasons now and another for whom better ground is a positive. However, first-fence fall was unexpected at Aintree last time, having popped around the course happily several times before. Slightly ponderous leaps at Chepstow earlier this season another possible cause for concern and, all in all, one to have too many concerns about for him to be carrying your cash.
GAS LINE BOY: Likeable frontrunner whose sound jumping could be a major asset if able to get into a rhythm in this bumper field, but possible that he might have to go a stride quicker than normal if he is to stay at the head of this pack on goodish ground and latest 9lb rise for defeat of Cloudy Too (now weighted to finish upsides) looks a shade harsh given that everything went to plan for him that day.
AACHEN: Only narrowly denied in this race 12 months ago and 1lb lower now. Subsequent efforts haven't inspired, although he enjoyed himself in front for a while in the National. Trainer an absolute master at getting one ready for the big occasion but, at 13, he is the old boy of the party and attritional going conditions would have been preferred for a proven mudlark.
DYNASTE: Well beaten when the money was down behind Gas Line Boy at Kelso and disappointing that he showed quite so little sparkle there, almost seeming to tail himself off at halfway. But plenty of ante-post support this week suggests some still retain the faith and, now 5lb lower, the blinkers are back on. Unquestionably well treated if able to come back to anything like his best, but the betting market hasn't missed him and the cold fact is that he hasn't won since the 2014 Ryanair.
FORGOTTEN GOLD: Jockey booking very much takes the eye and good ground in his favour. Did the job nicely in first-time cheekpieces at Leicester last time, but that was only a three-runner affair and subsequent 3lb rise in the weights means he must now defy a rating higher than he has ever faced in his career to this point. Could he now be ready to produce the best run of his life?
BENNYS MIST: Two appearances this season have both proved bitterly disappointing – even more so last time at Aintree given that he'd won the race 12 months earlier and appeared much less at home over the fences here. Handicapper has eased the rope very slightly, but has seemed more effective at shorter trips in recent seasons and needs a major revival in form now even if he does see out the trip.
CLOUDY TOO: Smart performer in his prime and a clear-cut winner at Haydock off a similar mark 12 months ago, albeit in much slower conditions. Rarely runs too bad a race and definitely feasibly handicapped after being dropped for failing to get to grips with Gas Line Boy last time.
LOOSE CHIPS: Rallied gamely to see off Court By Surprise here on penultimate start and capable conditional Graham Watters keeps the mount. A sound jumper for whom good ground suits, he has run a number of good races at this track, but seems best when able to dominate and could struggle to have his own way in this field.
ASTRACAD: Magnificent character and a multiple winner who has been to Cheltenham more times than most of us ever will, but doesn't appear to have much margin for error with the handicapper and his chance depends upon finding improvement for this rather late move up in distance.
AERIAL: Winner under inexperienced conditional of Fontwell's Southern National and caught the eye when never able to land a blow behind Gas Line Boy last time at Kelso. Connections deserve credit for loyalty to young rider whose 7lb claim helps make this one look distinctly well-treated on best form. Lightly raced in recent years including a spell in points and hunter chases but clearly back in good heart and well worth consideration.
ERICHT: Looked very smart prospect in younger days but has sometimes struggled with finishing effort. Two perfectly-respectable efforts in most recent appearances off similar mark and likely to be suited by fast-run race and big field if he can keep out of trouble – suspicion remains, however, that others will be powering up the hill more strongly.
WYCHWOODS BROOK: Fairly lightly raced in recent years and left Evan Williams after being pulled up at Taunton last February, just a fortnight after victory at the same track. Didn't jump well at Kelso on first start for Harry Whittington recently, but qualified for this race with fifth place and definitely well treated if new trainer can get the fire burning again. Question marks over the ground, however – all of his best efforts have come in the mud.
COURT BY SURPRISE: Long time since he last got his head in front, but this kind of contest should suit and undeniably well handicapped on best form. Balance of recent form simply doesn't look good enough however.
THEATRICAL STAR: Quirky customer, but a thorough stayer and latest third back over hurdles on Boxing Day confirmed that the engine still looks intact. Recent chasing form needs improvement, however this jockey knows him very well and a big run wouldn't be a surprise with stable claiming big pots left, right and centre so far this season.
BAILEYS CONCERTO: Faces stiffer competition here than he has been used to of late, but two and a half miles an insufficient test of stamina a couple of times earlier this season and latest effort when lost in the fog (and unsuitable mud) at Haydock is most forgiveable. Another who has gone a lamentably long time since his last win, but this contest provides him with a decent chance of picking up some good prize money with conditions likely to suit.
CODY WYOMING: Stable going as well as been the case for years, but hard to construct much of a case for this doubtful stayer otherwise.
PETE THE FEAT: Good second here to Le Reve less than a year ago and looks decently-treated on that form, but efforts this season have not been so inspiring and highly unlikely to be able to dominate. Others easier to fancy.
Even the most hardened of cynics would struggle to find much to criticise about the introduction of veterans' chases into the British racing programme and the line-up of this contest brings together steeplechasers who have between them both wowed and vexed punters for many seasons now.
Consistency is by no means the watchword for many of these horses, whose battles with the handicapper have left them a long time without victory yet, on the other end of the spectrum, it's surely asking too much for the likes of Shuil Royale and Forgotten Gold to defy ratings than they have ever been handed before during their careers as a consequence of recent success.
The support for Dynaste is understandable, particularly with the application of headgear. Yet his residual appetite for the game looked questionable last time, whereas willingness is a quality others in this field possess in abundance.
Given the guaranteed battle for the early lead, I prefer the claims of some of the hold-up performers and AERIAL has an interesting profile, having not been seen to best effect last time. Others to consider closely Cloudy Too, Wychwoods Brook and Theatrical Star, all of whom could be staying on up the hill when others have cried enough. Rocky Creek has a mind of his own, but might also appreciate the kind of exaggerated waiting ride he was given when taking the 2015 Betbright Chase off a 6lb higher mark.
1. AERIAL 2. ROCKY CREEK 3. THEATRICAL STAR 4. WYCHWOODS BROOK
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