Tom George has two lively contenders in Clondaw Castle and Double Shuffle as he bids to continue his fine record in the Close Brothers Handicap Chase at Kempton.
Nacarat won for George in 2009 and 2012, and he has gone close on other occasions – most notably with Double Shuffle, who was runner-up in 2017 and 2019.
The Cotswolds trainer does not usually run two horses in the same race but is going against the grain on Saturday, because both deserve their chance.
“It’s a race we’ve done well in,” he said.
“Those two horses both need to take their chance in it, although it’s not ideal running them against each other.”
This will be Double Shuffle’s fourth run in the race in its various guises, at a venue where he was also second in the King George VI Chase in 2017 and a course-and-distance winner just last month.
“Double Shuffle loves the track and likes good ground, and has run well in it before,” added George.
“He’s been struggling over the last year running on the wrong tracks on the wrong ground, wrong everything – and the handicapper hasn’t given him a chance – but I like to think he retains plenty of ability, and he’s in good form.
George believes the step up to three miles will suit Clondaw Castle.
“He’s ready for a step up to three miles. It’s what we’ve been waiting for, and this is a good opportunity to do it,” he said.
“He’s got plenty of pace. He was placed in an Arkle, but at the end of the day he’s going to be a stayer, so we should hopefully see plenty of progression stepped up in trip.”
Cap Du Nord is among the opposition, having run third in the Sky Bet Handicap Chase at Doncaster – where his trainer Christian Williams felt the three miles in testing conditions just found him out.
“I think the ground will be perfect, and he’s acted round the track before,” said Williams.
“He made a mistake at the second last at Doncaster, but I still think he’d have finished third – I just think he got outstayed by two more experienced horses, who were proper stayers.
“I think he jumped and travelled well in the race, but the ground just zapped him. It was great to be involved in a race like that and finish in the first four.
“This has been the plan since.”
Connections of Slate House are hoping the nine-year-old can return to the form that brought him Grade One success in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase over the course and distance on Boxing Day 2019.
“He is a Grade One winner around the track,” said Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father Colin.
“He ran a nice race over two and a half at Wincanton last time, and that just put him right for it hopefully. It is a competitive race – but I think it is the right race for him.
“Things haven’t quite gone to plan for him this season – and although he didn’t run badly at Wincanton last time, he is not the easiest horse to keep right, so we were a bit held up in the early part of the season with him.
“His next target has been this since Wincanton – and although it was probably a couple of weeks longer than what he needed, it was the right race to aim for.”
Black Corton bids to go one better than 12 months ago, when he was beaten two lengths by the Tizzard-trained Mister Malarkey.
“I’ve been waiting for this better ground for Black Corton – who had been working nicely with Secret Investor, gutsy winner of the Denman Chase last Sunday,” trainer Paul Nicholls told Betfair.
“I’ve left him alone in the worst of the winter, while the going was heavy everywhere, and he is ready to go again.
“Although Black Corton doesn’t get any help from the handicapper, it’s encouraging that he ran tidily in this race last year and always goes well fresh. He is ready and could go very well.”
The Ditcheat handler also saddles Southfield Stone, who was second in the Grade Two novice chase on this card last year.
“He won an all-weather bumper at Kempton the other day, has also won over hurdles at the track and all his best performances have come on good ground,” he said.
“As he has never run over more than two and a half miles, he is now stepping into the unknown over three miles for the first time. But I’ve always felt he would stay this far, particularly round this flat track on good ground. So there are plenty of plus points.”
Alan King is hoping Talkischeap can confirm his place in the Randox Grand National.
“I’ve got to run him – he hasn’t had a chase run since this race last year,” said the Barbury Castle handler.
“He needs a bit of practice, and we need to run him in this to qualify for Aintree.
“I think whatever he does he’ll improve for it. He has had the two runs on the all-weather – and they have certainly brought him on – but I’m just hoping for a good, solid run and then we can head towards Aintree.”
Mellow Ben has run creditably in defeat several times at Kempton, and his trainer Chris Gordon believes that will stand him in good stead.
“He seems in very good form at home,” he said.
“He’s got some good form round there to make a good case for him.
“I think the ground will suit him. I’m looking forward to him running a decent race.”