The ever-informative Instant Expert tab is Thursday's free feature, so ALL readers (irrespective of membership level) have access to it for ALL races, including the following full free races of the day...
- 2.15 Chepstow
- 2.25 York
- 2.40 Stratford
- 5.25 Windsor
- 7.45 Killarney
And of those, my race in focus is the 2.40 Stratford, which is a 7-runner, Class 2, handicap chase open to horses aged 4 and over. The trip is 2m3½f after rail movements and the going is set to be good, but firmer in places. These are the runners aiming to land the £11,707 first prize...
All bar Cracking Destiny have at least one win in their five outings, although he has been a runner-up in each of his last two.
Espoir de Teillee and Courtandbould won their last UK race, but the former has since been beaten in France in a Grade 2 hurdle.
Espoir is the only one here whose last UK run was a Class 2 contest. Mercian Prince ran in Grade 3 LTO, whilst Lock's Corner run was in a Listed race. The others all step up from Class 3.
Courtandbould is the least experienced in handicaps, making just a second start and he along with Lock's Corner and Yccs Portocervo have all previously won here at Stratford. All seven have won at similar trips to this one.
Courtndbould's yard look in good form (14 30) and have a good course record (C1 C5), as do the handlers of Espoir de Teillee (C5), Locks Corner (C1) and Yccs Portocervo (C5). Mercian Prince's yard looks off the boil right now (30) and the jockey with a positive note is aboard Yccs Portocervo (C5).
We've a 30pt spread on the OR that translates to 26lbs difference between top and bottom weight, as Storm Rising is 4lbs out of the handicap here.
Espoir De Teillee has won 3 of 5 chases to date including a back to back pair of Class 2, 2.5 milers in Feb/March this year after a second wind op. He was last seen going down by some 48 lengths in a soft-ground Grade 2 hurdle at Auteuil but has had another wind op since and now returns to the larger obstacles, where he should feel more at home.
Lock's Corner is consistently inconsistent if that's at all possible. In nine starts since mid-October, he has either been in the first two home or been pulled up (111121P1P), but is 4 from 7 (6111P1P) in handicap chases. Pulled up over 3m and 3m2f, it's clear that he's no stayer, but with 3 wins at 2m4½f/2m5f, this trip is far more suitable, he's only 3lbs higher than his last win and his yard have done well here of late...
Courtandbould had 3 wins and 2 runner-up finishes from 7 efforts over hurdles and although beaten by 19 lengths on his chasing bow in late June, bounced back to gamely win by three quarters of a length over 2 miles last time out. He's up in class and trip (+3.5f) here and a mark of 134 doesn't give him much scope for error, but he clearly has ability and his yard is in good nick right now...
Mercian Prince won 3 times and finished as runner-up twice from ten hurdles/chase starts during the 12 months from mid-July 2020, but was beaten by 28 lengths in a Grade 3 chase last time out. He did win a Class 3 chase back in November, but I can't help wondering if he's not better over the smaller obstacles nowadays where he runs off a mark a good 10lbs lower. Place possibilities here, but he'd be an unexpected winner.
Cracking Destiny finished as runner-up in back to back Class 3, 2m4f/2m4½f, softer ground handicaps last month, but this looks tougher for him. Beaten by 3.25 lengths off a mark of 130, then by 7.5L off 131, he's now up in class off 130 again. He did actually win at this level off 132 (again at Perth) last September and he does like the right-handed track at Perth very much, but has made the frame just once from 11 left-handed races.
Yccs Portocervo is a delightfully-named (after a sailing club in Sardinia) 6 yr old grey French gelding, who has 2 wins and 2 places from 7 over fences and comes here of the back of two good runs at Uttoxeter, winning a Class 4 by 3 lengths and he was then a 2.5 length runner-up at Class 3. He's up a couple of pounds and up in class, but I expect him to go well again.
Storm Rising was useful enough over hurdles (6 wins from 31) and won in that sphere of a mark of 126 as recently as less than three months ago. He runs here off 119, effectively 123 as he's 4lb wrong at the weights, so that initially looks fine, but he has yet to shine in three efforts over fences. His form of 224 is misleading, as those races only had 4, 3 and 5 runners respectively and he was beaten by 29L, 8.5L and 36L in them. He has lots to find here and I don't see him making an impression.
Feature of the day Instant Expert will give us a quick overview of both overall NH form...
...and more specifically, handicap chase form...
On overall form, Cracking Destiny & Storm Rising look the weakest, as I pretty much alluded to in the individual resumé section and they're already out of my thoughts at this point. Of the other five, Espoir has the worst record on the going, but is 2 from 5 in this grade. Mercian Prince is proven at Class 2 also. I already said we'd three course winners and all five left in contention have good numbers at the 2m2f to 2m4f range of trips and none are massively higher than their last winning marks
When we then dig down into handicap chases, the first thing we spot is Courtandbould's lack of experience in this sphere and Lock's Corner looks strong here. This tougher than he's used to, but going, track and trip are all to his liking, but just to check we're not leaning/relying on old data, let's quickly just look at the last two years' handicap chase form...
This highlights how flexible Instant Expert is straightaway and also quickly shows us how well Espoir, Lock's and YCCS have fared. Courtandbould is obviously an unknown quantity and Mercian Prince probably looks the weakest here of those left in contention.
The pace stats for similar races tell us that you can win from most ways of approaching the contest, but hold up horses have struggled to win...
...and based off recent outings, this isn't great news for the likes of Espoir de Teillee...
I discounted Cracking Prince and Storm Rising quite early in the piece and I'm against Mercian Prince, based on recent form and his overall handicap chase stats, whilst the lack of relative success for hold-up horses is the reason for omitting Espoir de Teillee. So, we're very quickly at three : Courtandbould, Lock's Corner and YCCS Portocervo.
The first of the three is still somewhat of an unknown at this level, he has gone well at this track over hurdles but is now markedly up in trip from his two other efforts over fences. His mark leaves little room for error and whilst he could well be a decent chaser, he's not offering enough value to me at 9/4 in a 7-runner field.
The latter of the three should have no issue with the trip, gets on well with his jockey who does well at this track, but he's 0 from 7 higher than Class 4 and that's worrying for horse priced at 11/4.
So, Lock's Corner, then? Yes, I think so. 15/2 with Hills is a cracking price (you might get a decent price only quote on the exchanges) and borderline E/W territory. His handicap chase record ticks a lot of boxes, he has won here, he's 3/5 on good ground, 4/6 under today's jockey, has Class 1 experience, 3/4 in small fields, 4/6 in cheekpieces, 3/6 going left handed and so on!
Who I have as next best is tight between YCCS Portocervo and Courtandbould and either could beat the other. I hope YCCS prevails in that battle, as the forecast returns will be higher ! 😉