Our racing expert gives his verdict on the three Challenger Series Finals at Haydock.
2:05 2m4f (2m3f203y) Smarkets Challenger Middle Distance Chase Series Final Handicap Chase (Class 2) (5yo+)
Crievehill blew the opposition away at Sandown last time, with the re-opposing Aloomomo 20 lengths adrift in second, and is clearly a horse on the up. However, a further 9lb rise leaves him top weight to carry and the 7lb he concedes to fellow six-year-old CREEP DESBOIS might prove beyond him. The latter horse looked to have a decent handicap chase at Leicester sewn up last time only to get mugged on the line by Colin’s Brother, and that was another step forward having got off the mark over fences at Fakenham previously. While he’s up another 2lb here, I very much doubt his revised mark of 131 is the ceiling of his ability with further improvement almost a given.
Masterplan might have finished second behind Crievehill last time but for a bad blunder two out and has cheekpieces back on, so he could also have a say in the finish.
2:40 1m7½f (1m7f144y) Smarkets Challenger Two Mile Hurdle Series Final Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) (4yo+)
Joke Dancer has won three of his last four starts, including twice over this track and trip, and he deserves to be favourite. However, this is tougher than he’s used and with his stable not exactly firing on all cylinders, I’m happy to look elsewhere. You can make a case for just about all the runners and last year’s fourth William Of Orange is tempting having had wind surgery since finishing third in a jumpers’ bumper.
But I’m going to chase even bigger odds with 16/1 on offer for rank outsider ZULU OSCAR. He’s that price as he’s finished out with the washing on his four most starts, but that’s seen his handicap mark take a nosedive and he’s now 12lb lower than when finishing a respectable seventh in the Grade Swinton Hurdle here last April. That was following on from a Chepstow triumph just five days previously (off a 3lb higher than than today) and it could be that he’s a horse who comes alive in the spring and after a break. At 16/1, it’s worth paying to find out.
3:15 3m1½f (3m1f125y) Smarkets Challenger Staying Chase Series Final Handicap Chase (Class 2) (5yo+)
Behind Time was gaining a deserved first win over fences at Uttoxeter last time following a string of solid efforts and a 7lb rise might not be beyond him. But his jumping technique still leaves room for improvement and whilst these fences are not as stiff as they used to be, it’s a concern nonetheless. Potters Legend was still travelling with purpose when coming down at Fakenham last time as even money favourite and he’s faced some stiff tasks earlier this season.
However, the one that will be carrying my money is WICKED WILLY as he looks a staying chaser of real potential and may well have been trained for this by Nigel Twiston-Davies, who has a good record in these Challenger Series Finals (3-9 in the last two years). The selection has already won twice over fences years this term and his latest fourth in a class 2 at Sandown can be marked as he same from further back than the first three home and would likely have pushed that trio for a mistake two out. Whilst he’s one of the highest-rated runners in the field, the one above him in the weights is rated 11lb superior and that means he’s not overburdened by any means.
All odds were correct at time of posting.