Five Key Questions ahead of the Classic Chase

Andy Dufresne takes his chance in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.
Andy Dufresne takes his chance in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.

Alex Stearn has picked out five key talking points ahead of the weekend, as the Classic Handicap Chase takes centre stage at Warwick...

Will a wind-op work for Larkbarrow Lad? 

The Lanzarote Hurdle cut up somewhat at the declaration stage, with Pic D’orhy a notable absentee, but that has given Larkbarrow Lad a stronger chance in carrying on his progressive profile after wind surgery. Philip Hobbs’ charge has always been seen in a tongue-tie in his races, suggesting that his wind has always been considered an issue, prompting them to opt for an operation. He does have an 80-day lay-off to contend with but that isn’t a worry considering Hobbs has his yard in excellent form. Tom O’Brien’s mount isn’t the most straightforward of horses, and things like being smuggled into the contest and not hitting the front too soon have to be considered as he’s prone to idling, but he has ridden him before so will know what he’s like. That being said, his quirky nature could mean the handicapper has underestimated his ability, and he could still be well-treated off his mark of 136 - and with the race likely to be run to suit, he is my idea of the winner.

Of the rest, Burrows Edge was last seen falling when tackling fences in a beginners’ chase, but his chasing career has been put on ice for now with some good course and distance form to his name over timber. His two starts in the spring of 2019 were over this track and trip, and although he was unable to get his head infront, he did chase home a smart type before then finding his next outing too much of a sharp test on good to soft ground. Kempton is expecting the ground to ride on the tiring side on Saturday, which could bring his stamina into play, and he is another that will be delivered late, but can be opposed due to his patchy profile. Olly Murphy wasn’t expecting to have the favourite for this contest but has found his charge at the top of market. Notre Pari was a comfortable winner on handicap debut at Aintree where he really kicked clear down the run in but he is now competing off an 8 lb higher mark, which might be a stretch too far with the form not being the strongest from that contest.


Kempton 14:40
Larkbarrow Lad silk

Larkbarrow Lad


Surely he’s more of a Grand National Type?

Unsurprisingly, The Conditional is at the top of the market in Warwick’s feature contest on Saturday, the Grade 3 Classic Handicap Chase. He’s improved by 10 lb since switching to David Bridgwater’s yard over the summer, and was last seen chasing home De Rasher Counter in the Ladbrokes Trophy, which was a clear career-best effort. He’s got another 5 lb rise in the weights to contend with for that performance, and considering he shaped at Newbury as if improvement could be forthcoming when faced with an extreme trip ,it offers hope that the 3m 5f here will suit him. 

He has a strong chance, but seems to rate as a type for the Grand National rather than the Gold Cup, for which he received an entry for on Tuesday. That being said, if he wanted to take his chance in Aintree’s feature, he’d need to win here to guarantee a urn, as his current mark of 142 is right on the fringe of what would be required to sneak in the bottom of the weights. He could well come out on top here, in what doesn’t seem to be the strongest of contests. 

Next in the market is Tom Lacey’s Kimberlite Candy, who improved for a switch to the National fences and the application of cheekpieces when last seen in the Becher Chase at Aintree. He was staying on strongly up the run-in, but couldn’t reel in Walk In The Mill, and is another that is open to more progress over these types of trips still being only an 8-year-old. He looks like getting the ground that he thrives on and can but up a bold show, but it could be that he’s just  better over the National fences and prove too high in the weights here.

Saturday successes seem to be coming more and more frequent for Colin Tizzard, and his charge Darlac is an intriguing contender based on his recent form. He’s never been beyond three miles in his career, but one of his attempts at that trip over hurdles did offer hope for improvement over an extreme distance. Tizzard seems to have an abundance of well-handicapped staying chasers, and if this doesn’t turn into too much of a stamina test then he can also play a part, though he might not be as well-equipped for this test as the more proven stayers. 

Wetherby Winners?  

Wetherby is the happiest of hunting grounds for Phil Kirby, and after several big race successes in recent weeks, he can take the handicap hurdle on the card with Sakhee’s City. The colours that Sean Quinlan will be wearing barely need an introduction as they belong to Mrs Jayne Sivills, the owner of Lady Buttons, and she can taste more success here. Sakhee’s City has form over this course and distance from back in November, when he was cheekily smuggled to success under an excellent Adam Nichol ride off just a 3lb lower mark, when it looked like he could have gone on to win by as far as he wanted. He tried three miles on heavy ground around Haydock next time, where it didn’t look like he stayed and his jumping suffered after getting tired. Phil Kirby is a name that will be more and more prominent in the training ranks over the coming years and Sakhee’s City can be another winner to add to his ever growing tally. 

Away from Phil Kirby, another two runners have outstanding claims to continue their good starts to their respective careers, beginning with Coconut Splash, who can get the card off to a winning start if his jumping holds up. He was good at Aintree where he was only just touched off by Imperial Alcazar before then being in the process of running a big race in a hot maiden at Newbury last time out, when falling at the last. This contest doesn’t have the quality that those two races have produced, and it would be a surprise to not see him get his head in front here. Another to keep an eye on is Annie MC, who takes her chances in the Mares Chase after beating the smart If You Say Run last time out at Wincanton. She might not have it all her own way - with Alsa Mix in the line-up - but she has always shaped as if she would improve for fences and can continue to progress through the ranks here giving her yard a welcome winner, who are in a bit of a quiet patch by their high standards.  


Wetherby 14:50
Sakhee's City silk

Sakhee's City


Can the drop back to two miles work for Andy? 

Andy Dufresne looked to be another smart type to come from Gordon Elliott’s abundance of high-class novice hurdlers when hosing up in a maiden hurdle in early November of last year. That warranted connections to step up to Grade 2 company, where he was expected to put up a performance of a similar nature. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and he was comfortably beaten at odds of 3/1-on, and he didn’t seem to travel with the same zest that was evident in his maiden. He is a point-to-point winner over three miles, so you would expect that two and a half miles would be the minimum he needs, but his bumper performances showed that he had plenty of speed in his locker. The drop back to the minimum trip of two miles seems to be the right way to go with him after his last performance, and given that the rest of the field haven’t posted performances in the same league as him, it would be another big shock if he doesn’t get his career back on track at Punchestown on Sunday. 

Do the BHA need to re-evaluate bookmaker sponsorships? 

This week has been somewhat eventful to say the least in the world of racing, and the main protagonist for all the headlines has been Altior and his Kempton engagement. He was entered to take his chance in Saturday’s Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase over two and a half miles, for which he was a long odds-on favourite. However, on Wednesday morning his price drifted from 4/1-on to around 5/2, with his stable-mate Top Notch suddenly finding himself at the head of the market at around 5/4. A couple of hours after people had cottoned on to the markets, Nicky Henderson tweeted that Altior wouldn’t be lining up in that contest…who’d have guessed? 

The storm that followed saw Twitter erupt with speculation and Unibet were soon on the defensive, saying that they had no idea until Henderson told them, and he then subsequently tweeted that he wouldn’t be taking his chance (Unibet had previously been found to be running Henderson’s Twitter account, so it would be no surprise if that was still the case). Another issue with the subject was that they didn’t state a reason why in the initial tweet, and the betting public had to wait for the full reason to be published in his Unibet blog, which followed about half an hour later. The BHA couldn’t sit back at this point and had to intervene, publishing a statement reminding Nicky Henderson that if a horse was not to take up his engagement, and he must be scratched from the race, under the rules of racing. Admittedly, when it was announced Ten Sovereigns and Advertise weren’t going to line up in the Sprint Cup at Haydock, the betting patterns weren’t as severe but they weren’t forced to be scratched on the BHA’s Racing Admin site - that all entries and declarations are carried out from - people just trusted that they wouldn’t be amongst the declarations at the 48hr stage. The BHA had to react and rightly so given the questions about integrity that had grown as a consequence. 

Altior was scratched on Thursday lunchtime from the contest (under what I imagine was significant pressure from the BHA), but not before Henderson had come out to say that he was now re-considering running his star chaser as he felt that the horse had improved within himself since the original announcement, but felt that scratching him was the right thing to do. Bookmaker links with yards and jockeys have always been the subject of much derision amongst the public, and have been regulated by the BHA, but after this debacle, the nature of those relationships have to come under further scrutiny to make sure the image of the sport isn’t further damaged. 

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