Our racing expert has two to back at Exeter, including the feature Haldon Gold Cup.
Paul Nicholls loves having a crack at the Haldon Gold Cup, winning it six times, including two of the last three renewals, so his pair of runners this year deserve plenty of respect.
His San Benedeto was a clear second behind another stablemate, Politolugue, 12 months ago and he has to be a player again, albeit he was a distant last of the six runners over hurdles at Kempton last month.
Bryony Frost keeps the ride on him, while Harry Cobden gets the leg up on the Nicholls-trained top weight Diego Du Charmil, who is preferred of the pair. The six-year-old took his form to a new level when winning a Grade 1 at Aintree in April and is best suited by today’s good ground.
But he’s now on a career-high mark and while I suspect there is more to come from him, I’m not sure he can concede 6lb to the race-fit OZZIE THE OSCAR. Trained by Philip Hobbs, who last won this with Planet Of Sound in 2009, he was in excellent form back in the spring, winning back-to-back races at Warwick (both on good ground), and should be all the sharper for his comeback third in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las 17 days ago.
Hobbs has probably had this race in mind for him for a while and he will have the services of Richard Johnson, who has been on board for all seven of his wins under Rules. I don’t think there will be much between him and Diego Du Charmil but, at the respective odds, he gets my vote.
It would be wrong not to mention the 2014 winner God’s Own, especially as he also finished third in the 2015 version, but he wasn’t at his best in four runs last season and has to give the improving selection 5lb.
The remaining runner, Theo, needs a career best now stepping up in class, although he knows how to win (4-8 over fences) and can’t be totally discounted off bottom weight.
The 3m handicap chase is even trickier to solve as all bar one of the eight runners have realistic claims. They include Paul Nicholls’ Favorito Buck’s, who won in good style over further in April (good ground) and remains unexposed over staying trips, and the hat-trick seeking Belmount, although he’s shouldering top weight and has been beaten every time he’s run off marks in the 130s.
Lurking on bottom weight is Nick Gifford’s Canyouringmeback, who is 2-5 since sent chasing and may well have brought up his hat-trick at Wincanton last time but for unseating his rider five from home, given how well he was travelling at the time. However, he seems best on flat right-handed tracks – such as Huntingdon and Kempton – and the more undulating terrain of Exeter might just find him out.
So, it was a toss up between Favorito Buck’s and POWERFUL SYMBOL for the pick with the latter horse just shading it. Ben Pauling’s eight-year-old is coming off a career-best victory at Stratford (2m6f) last month, when making all and staying on well, and the wind operation he had over the summer has clearly had the desired effect.
Seemingly best on good ground at around this trip, there may be more to come from him now that his breathing has been sorted out and his stable remains in cracking form.
All odds were correct at time of posting.