Ned Stark is fancied to improve his trainer's good record in this race
Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase, 3m1f, Old Course (due off 2.40pm)
All the recent money has been for the Charlie Longsdon-trained Pendra (16/1 into as 6/1) and he seems sure to go off favourite. It’s easy to see why he’s fancied as he has long been considered better than his current mark of 140, has a great record fresh (so his absence since November is no concern) and boasts Cheltenham Festival form, having finished third in the 2m41/2f novices’ handicap chase on last year’s Tuesday card. The longer trip of this race suits him better and connections are hoping a wind operation since he last ran has worked. He does take a liberty with the odd fence, though, and he’ll need to keep mistakes to a minimum to land the mini-gamble. There have been only two winning favourites in the last quarter of a century. Top price: 7/1 BetVictor.
Who else is fancied?
The Alan King-trained novice Ned Stark has been amongst the favourites since betting opened and he ticks plenty of boxes as an unexposed, improving chaser, who has yet to show his full hand to the handicapper. He relished the step up to this trip when winning the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby last time and, if any more positives were needed, the stable has landed this race twice, most recently with Bensalem in 2011.
The Druid’s Nephew won on his first start for Neil Mulholland in October and has run some sound races in defeat since. The pick of those would be his second to the well-handicapped Sam Winner here in December. Jonjo O’Neill has won three of the last ten renewals and his best chance this time looks sure to be Irish Grand National winner Shutthefrontdoor, although he has the Grand National as his prime objective.
Any decent outsiders?
Plenty can be made a case for. Mendip Express lost his way last season after winning over further at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, but he has got back on track this term and ran a fine race when second in the Becher Chase. Barrakilla hasn’t been seen out since chasing home Niceonefrankie at the track in December, with connections keen to protect what looks a generous chase mark.
He’s clearly been paid out for this. The Irish have won the race just twice, which suggests it is not a priority for them, although Tony Martin’s Gallant Oscar is not dismissed lightly. Of those at bigger odds, Annacotty has plenty going for him. He stayed on strongly to win a 2m5f Grade 3 handicap chase here in January and he’s sure to be suited by the return to 3m1f, with a 5lb rise looking lenient.
Trainer quote: “This has been his target for some time, we’re very happy with the way he’s progressed and he’s in good order. He’s probably a classier horse than Fork Lightning, our first winner, and he’d be more like our second Bensalem.” – Alan King on Ned Stark.
Best bookie offer
Back the winner of this race at 4/1 or bigger with bet365 and they will give you a free bet to the same stake (up to £50) on the next live Channel 4 race (the Champion Hurdle, 3.20pm). If that also wins at 4/1 or bigger, get another free bet and so on.
The progressive NED STARK is just preferred ahead of Pendra, with Annacotty more than capable of making the frame. Surely one or more firms will be offering five places (instead of the standard four) on the day.
Selection – Ned Stark @ 8/1 bet365 NRNB