Venetia to deliver a Haydock ‘Trail’blazer

This looks one of the most intriguing renewals of the Peter Marsh Chase for many a year.

In its infancy during the early eighties, the race became a recognised stepping stone to the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. Several won here before successfully following up at Prestbury Park. The Peter Easterby trained Little Owl took the inaugural running in 1981 before defeating Night Nurse and Silver Buck at Cheltenham.

The following year Bregawn took the Peter Marsh, but could only finish second to Silver Buck in the Gold Cup. He was not to be denied in the ‘big one’ 12 months later when thrashing Captain John and Wayward Lad. The Thinker was another to complete the double in the late 80s, before Jodami went one better in 1993. He took the Peter Marsh, before heading to Ireland to win the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown. A month later he captured the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, completing a stunning three-month period of success.

Jodami went on to take the Haydock feature for the second time in 1997. He became one of only a trio of 12-year-olds to win the race, when lumping 11st 10lbs to victory. Twin Oaks had mirrored the feat in 1992, and then in 2010 Our Vic became the third OAP to defy age and 11st 6lbs, in battling to a heroic success.

Eight-year-olds have won the lion’s-share in recent years, though nine and 10-year-olds have a decent record. One aged 11 and Our Vic at 12 have also been successful in the past dozen or so years. You have to go back to 1996 for the last seven-year-old winner, which is somewhat ironic, as all the pre-race chat has centred on the Tizzard trained Alary, himself a seven-year-old import from France.

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Tizzard has been dominant over the winter, and has the three leading British staying chasers, in Thistlecrack, Cue Card and Native River. Despite having such riches in the yard, the Dorset trainer has not held back in his praise for the newcomer. Earlier this month when pondering over a likely starting point he said: “I don't know when he will run but he's bloody good, I'll tell you that.”

‘Bloody good’ he may be, but he only managed to win twice in France, though his last run was undoubtedly his best, when finishing a close second in a Grade 1 at Auteuil. The handicapper has taken no chances, and has awarded him a mark of 162. To put into context, Native River is currently rated 168. Trip and ground look sure to suit, and though he’s in new hands, his last outing was only in November, so fitness shouldn’t prove an issue. If he wins, and wins well, you can kiss goodbye to 20s for the Gold Cup in March.

The main danger to Alary may well come from Bristol De Mai. No six-year-old has ever won the race, but the Twiston-Davies youngster looks to set that record straight. He’s been stepped-up in trip this year, and ran well off top-weight in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle in November. He lost out to Otago Trail on that occasion, but is better off at the weights this time. Five of the first six from the Newcastle event re-oppose, and it’s tough to discount any of them.

The Venetia Williams trained Otago Trail, needs testing ground to be at his best. He too has moved up in trip of late, and he stayed on powerfully to win the Rehearsal, having looked likely to come-off second best for much of the race. He was thrashed by Bristol De Mai when the pair last met at Haydock a year ago, though that came at two and a half miles, when a quicker De Mai simply dominated from the front. This looks sure to be closer, and it’s tough to split the pair.

Definitly Red looked outpaced at Newcastle, before staying on well to finish third. He has since won the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby, and though now worse off at the weights with both Otago and De Mai, he looks to have an outstanding chance here. He’s currently second favourite to Tizzard’s newcomer, but will need a thorough end to end gallop if he is to scrap his way to victory.

Sausalito Sunrise is another that looks to have every chance. The Philip Hobbs trained nine-year-old is down 8lbs from a career high mark of 163. He appears to act on all ground, but a slight concern is that he has failed to spark in his two runs so far this winter. He should benefit from having less on his back, and is undoubtedly a classy chaser on his day. I’m not convinced he needs a slog through the mud, and should the ground prove as testing as it often does at Haydock, I’d be against him.

Virak represents champion trainer Paul Nicholls, and is ridden by the outstanding claimer Harry Cobden. The same combination were runners-up 12 months ago, though beaten a fair way that time by Cloudy Too. This looks a classier renewal, and having been beaten a mile in the Rehearsal, I’m not sure this fella is quite good enough in this company.

Of the remainder, the inexperienced Vintage Clouds is of interest. Another seven-year-old, he is trained by Sue Smith, who took this last year, and has a strong record in the race. He’s finished runner-up in all three starts over fences, and has looked a promising novice. By Cloudings, his breeding suggests a slog should suit. The concern is whether such a test at this stage of his career will prove too much. I think it probably will.

It’s a cracking renewal, with the added spice of a potential star in the field. Alary may well romp home and prove a realistic Gold Cup contender, but his odds are restrictive, and he’s worth taking on. At 14/1, I’m taking Otago Trail come out on top. He was so impressive at Newcastle, and I take him to uphold the form in testing ground. Bristol De Mai is wonderfully talented, but I am concerned that he doesn’t really see out three miles. I fancy Definitly Red to do best of the remainder. Best of luck to those having a punt.

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