Hopefully tomorrow, Warwick will hold its most prestigious raceday of the winter, with the Classic Chase the highlight.
The three-mile and five-furlong slog was established in 2004, and is understandably used by many as a trial for the nationals in the spring. The race is usually run in testing conditions, and tomorrow should be no different. Frost covers were deployed earlier in the week, with forecasters predicting snow, sleet, torrential rain and the occasional deluge of locusts, but it seems that the course has missed the worse and prospects for racing look good.
A maximum field of 20 will go to post, with the Paul Nicholls trained Vivaldi Collonges at the head. Team Ditcheat have enjoyed the race in recent times, with three wins in the past nine years, though this fella needs to go some to maintain that record, having finished well down the field in last year’s renewal. it’s rather surprising to see that four horses have carried more than 11 stone to victory in that time. Two of those Nicholls winners were aged 10 and the other an eight-year-old, with experience therefore proving invaluable.
If Nicholls can’t provide the winner, then maybe a pair of Herefordshire trainers will have more luck. Both Venetia Williams and Kerry Lee have captured this event in recent times, and both are known for their knack of producing mud-lovers. Houblon Des Obeaux ticks the ‘wealth of experience’ box, and was a gallant fourth in this 12 months ago. He arrives off the back of a terrific Welsh National performance, and is clearly back to something like his best. Nevertheless, he is 6lb higher in the handicap than last year, and this therefore remains a tough assignment.
Lee has several in the mix, including last year’s winner Russe Blanc. He appears to have suffered from the hike in his handicap mark since that win, though his last run in the Tommy Whittle at Haydock gave hope that he is returning to a more competitive mark. This marathon trip is ideal, as will be ground conditions. A 7lb claimer takes a nice chunk of weight off his back, and he has to have a chance, though he’d be the first to win back-to-back.
The age of winners during this past dozen years varies from seven to 11, with nine-year-olds leading the way on four victories. Youngsters clearly lack the necessary experience, whilst the older brigade find the stamina test a little too much. Therefore, though Rigadin De Beauchene, Midnight Prayer and Mountainous for that matter, are all back on favourable handicap marks, their age remains a great concern. Of those, Midnight Prayer appears to love Warwick, and may still run a huge race.
The market shows just how open a renewal this is, with no fewer than six runners currently sharing favouritism at 10s. Tom Symonds Kaki De La Pree, has only run six times over fences, but has never been out of the first three. He won’t mind conditions, though the marathon trip is an unknown. I was at Bangor for his return last month, where he lost out to a real promising type from the Nicky Richards yard. He’s a horse I fancy, though the trip worries me.
Fergal O’Brien is having a cracking winter, and his Viva Steve is a leading contender. He stayed on powerfully at Ayr last time, though suffers a 7lb hike in the weights for that win. Clearly, that’s far from ideal, but he looks progressive, and looked a relentless galloper last time. He ought to be suited by the trip, and should have a decent chance.
Another with the potential to go close is Shotgun Paddy. He failed to make the cut for the Welsh National, and trainer Emma Lavelle looks for compensation in this. The trip will be ideal, as will the ground. He won this in 2014 at the age of seven, was then third in 2015, and is now 6lb lower in the handicap. He was third in the Welsh National a year ago, and clearly enjoys running at this time of year. He looks to have a huge chance.
Doctor Harper ran a cracker at Cheltenham a couple of weeks back, when only just failing to win over a trip of 3m2f. His new handicap mark will prove a real test, as will his return after such a short rest. He clearly has plenty more to give, but I have my doubts about tomorrow.
It’s another cracking renewal, and those taking the opportunity to visit Warwick will be rewarded with a terrific card. I tipped Shotgun Paddy for the Welsh National, and I certainly won’t be deserting him here. He looks to have a great chance, in a race that he clearly enjoys. He loves the track, the trip and the ground. He’s handicapped to go close and looks sure to do so. Kaki De La Pree could well be best of the rest. Good luck to those taking a punt.