Five horses to note at Warwick's Classic Chase meeting

Chosen Mate won the Grand Annual as a novice last season.
Chosen Mate won the Grand Annual as a novice last season.

Nick Seddon takes a look at the weekend's entries, and picks out five horses to note from the action at Warwick, Market Rasen, Fairyhouse and Punchestown...

Next Destination - Paul Nicholls (Warwick 13:50)

Warwick's card on Saturday contains no less than three Graded contests, beginning with the Grade 2 Hampton Novices' Chase over three miles, which generally acts as a pointer for either the RSA Chase or the National Hunt Chase at the Festival.

With testing conditions almost a given at the midlands track, it generally takes a strong stayer to win this, a box which Next Destination certainly ticks. A Grade 1 winner over hurdles as a novice for Willie Mullins in 2017-18, the nine-year-old has shown plenty in two starts since switching to Paul Nicholls at the beginning of the season, and impressed when making a winning chasing debut at Grade 2 level at Newbury in November. That race has been by the likes of Native River and Santini in recent years, and the omens look good for Next Destination, who jumped particularly well and looks a smart recruit to this sphere. 

It's a shame that the field has rather cut up after the final declarations, and while Golan Fortune is certainly no mug, this three-runner affair looks likely to boil down to a match race between Next Destination and Fiddlerontheroof. The latter is more experienced, and should act as a useful yardstick considering that it's taken three smart recruits to defeat him so far. He's a smart novice in his own right for the Colin Tizzard team, but there could be plenty more to come from Next Destination over fences yet, and he can strengthen his Cheltenham Festival credentials with a strong performance in this. 

Hampton Novices' Chase
Next Destination silk

Next Destination

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Chosen Mate - Gordon Elliott (Fairyhouse 14:15)

Away from Warwick, it's a pretty mundane Saturday of racing on both sides of the Irish Sea, though Fairyhouse holds an interesting-looking handicap chase, which will see some smart performers head to post. Last month's emphatic Caspian Caviar Gold Cup winner Chatham Street Lad is a warm order in the betting here after a 10 lb rise by the assessor, and he'd be ready for a step into Graded company if he's in the same mood here. It's difficult to oppose him considering that he could still open to improvement yet, though there are a host of interesting names in opposition, including the Gordon Elliott-trained Chosen Mate, who will carry top weight. 

A impressive winner of the Grand Annual as a novice at last year's Festival, Chosen Mate has had a varied campaign so far this season, taking in assignments on both the Flat and over hurdles. He was well held behind Champion Hurdle hope Saint Roi in a Grade 3 contest over timber at Tipperary in October, and perhaps isn't an obvious candidate to strike here, considering he disappointed when returned to fences at Fairyhouse last month. That may indeed be the case, and he looks to have a tough task here off the same mark as last time out - a full 9 lb higher than for his success at last year's Festival. He's best watched at the prices on this occasion, but isn't one to rule out as far as the remainder of the season is concerned.

It's worth noting that he tends to show his best form in the spring, and it wouldn't be a surprise should he become competitive again if dropped a couple of pounds between now and March. Indeed, a repeat bid at the Grand Annual springs to mind, and the Wigan Athletic-inspired colours of David Sharpe could well taste victory once again this spring.

Fairyhouse 14:15
Chosen Mate silk

Chosen Mate (EW)

Cheltenham Festival Races

Storm Control - Kerry Lee (Classic Chase)

Warwick's feature race on Saturday is the Grade 3 Classic Chase, a race which often acts as a good pointer for the Grand National at Aintree. Indeed, the last National winner to win this race before striking on Merseyside was the Scottish raider One For Arthur in 2017, and there are several horses who will be targeting that particular double this time around, including Ballyoptic, Le Breuil and Walk In The Mill. Plenty of the 13-strong field are high enough in the weights at present, though one who arrives here on an upward trajectory is Storm Control, who represents the Kerry Lee team.

The eight-year-old has really clicked into place since being stepped up in trip this term, and completed a notable double at Cheltenham when holding on gamely to prevail in a valuable contest at last month's International Meeting, despite tying up badly in the closing stages. Admittedly, such a performance may be enough to put punters off here, especially as he's stepping up an extra five furlongs in trip, though he appeared to be idling rather than looking short of stamina, and found more when joined by his rivals in the dying strides. There should be more to come from Storm Control yet in this sphere, and for a yard that won this race with Russe Blanc in 2016, this progressive type is fancied to defy a 5 lb rise by finding the necessary improvement to go in again. 

Classic Chase
Storm Control silk

Storm Control

Pulled Up
Grand National Tips

Grangee - Willie Mullins (Market Rasen 15:15)

It's not too often that you see both 'Willie Mullins' and 'Market Rasen' in the same sentence, but the Irish maestro successfully raided a listed mares' bumper with his first ever runner at the Lincolnshire course with Panic Attack 12 months ago, and he'll be aiming to repeat the trick with Grangee on Saturday afternoon. The five-year-old is a full sister to the useful hurdler/chaser Box Office, and she made a pretty taking impression when winning on debut in testing conditions at Galway back in October. Admittedly, that form isn't the strongest you'll ever see, but she won really nicely on the day, and is open to any amounts of improvement here.

Indeed, it's unlikely that she'd be travelling across the Irish Sea if her connections weren't confident about her chances, and with Nico de Boinville booked to ride, a big run is anticipated. Meanwhile, the unbeaten Eileendover ought to offer some firm competition for Pam Sly, having won each of her two outings to date in emphatic fashion. This is a big step up in class, but she's open to improvement and looks best of the rest. 

Market Rasen 15:15
Grangee silk


Cheltenham Gold Cup

Envoi Allen - Gordon Elliott (Punchestown 13:20, Sunday)

Sunday's action is headlined by an excellent card at Punchestown, which features no less than two Graded contests for novices. The Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle usually produces a smart type, and should prove informative once again, though the main act is undoubtedly the unbeaten Envoi Allen, who will bid to pick up an eleventh straight career success under Rules in the Grade 3 Killiney Novice Chase. He's yet to put a foot wrong in two starts over the larger obstacles to date, and although the form wasn't anything too exciting, he looked a top-drawer chaser in the making when easing to victory in the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse in November. Envoi Allen already has a pretty daunting presence in the novice chasing division, to the point that horses are already being plotted away from his intended target at Cheltenham (the Marsh Novices' Chase), though in Asterion Forlonge he will face a pretty stern test of his credentials on Sunday. 

Like Envoi Allen, Asterion Forlonge was a high-class novice hurdler last term, and he got off to a winning start in a beginners' chase here in November, scoring by six lengths. He hasn't always convinced with his jumping thus far, however, and he fell when travelling at the fifth last in last month's Grade 1 Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick. He'd largely been jumping well prior to that, however, and deserves another chance here at what's still the early stages of his jumping career. He certainly has the talent to ask the question of Envoi Allen, and we should see a really good race.  

Killiney Novice Chase
Envoi Allen silk

Envoi Allen

Grand National Odds
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