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PREVIEW OLD ROAN LTD HANDICAP CHASE – GRADE 2

Yesterday evening (Friday) the top of the market looked very different for this grade two contest. Hitman was trading as the 9/4 favourite with Do Your Job being offered at an each way price of around 4/1. This morning at 10.23 Hitman has drifted to 3/1 whilst the Michael Scudamore – trained Do Your Job has been supported down to 11/4 favourite with many firms.

Paul Nicholls is on record as suggesting that Hitman will come on for the run and probably get chinned in the latter stages as he was on his seasonal debut at Exeter one year ago. His season culminated with a second-place finish in the 2022 Melling Chase run over today’s course and distance. It is interesting to note that leading up to that contest, Paul Nicholls intimated that he would reroute Hitman to the two-mile race should the ground become more testing. At the time of writing, we have had plenty of rain fall on the course with a lot more due to fall between now and race time.

Whatever the early market favourite achieves today I think it is fair to suggest that he would have been better off without this morning’s rain. When he was trading at 9/4 he appeared to be an obvious favourite to take on. With the ground now set to ride softer than first thought, his chances have decreased at the same time his odds have lengthened. On the evidence of his latest five races, he appears to be far more likely to finish in second or third place than actually get his head in front.

He has lost his latest five chases and has not always appeared to be the strongest in a finish. His trainer has put this down to Hitman being a big baby who will develop and strengthen up in time. This may well be how it pans out for him this season; nevertheless, I would prefer to see evidence of this improvement before wanting him on my side – especially when trading towards the head of the market.

The Old Roan Chase has a habit of favouring well handicapped second season chasers and Do Your Job is the obvious one in this field to fit that particular bill. If his jumping stands up to this test it would be difficult to think he will not remain competitive in the latter stages. At 4/1 on good ground tending towards good to soft I thought he appeared to offer strong potential as an each way bet for this Grade two Chase. I think we need to keep a close eye on the ground conditions in the earlier races as Aintree can often ride a lot more testing than seems likely going into the meeting. I still see Do Your Job as having the strongest claims here; however, he is 11/4 favourite in many books, so I am not now suggesting anything that the market does not agree with. Furthermore, the more rain that falls the more open minded I would prefer to remain as to Do Your Job having the requisite stamina for this intermediate trip.

Millers Bank is dropping back in trip and should be inconvenienced less than most of this field by the likely softer conditions. He seems to have saved his two career best performances for this track and one can be hopeful of him performing well again here. He has failed to complete the course in two of his six chases to date and finished down the field the last time we saw him in April at Punchestown. I am not sure whether he simply failed to see out the three miles that day or was feeling the effects of his hard-fought success over this course and distance 19 days earlier. It would be a surprise if this relatively small yard did not have him ready for one of his two very obvious target races for this season – the other being the Melling Chase.

The Dan Skelton-trained Beakstown managed to win just one of his seven chases last season and this grade two contest represents a significant step up in class for this nine-year-old son of Stowaway. Although a fair few from the yard have appeared to need their first outings of the season, one would imagine that Beakstown will be ready to perform to his best here. After all, if he is going to nick a race of this standing, his chances would be more obvious should he hold a fitness advantage over one or two stronger rivals with bigger targets further down the line. If he does manage to get his head in front at Aintree, I suspect it will have plenty to do with the failings of others and I will consider the form appropriately.

We have seen plenty of shift in the Old Roan Chase market overnight and the support for Soldier Of Destiny has been the most significant change. On good ground I think the potential for a bet in this race was more obvious; however, the overnight and morning rain has rather muddied the waters and has certainly brought this Jamie Snowdon lightly raced chaser into the equation. If Soldier Of Destiny is the one for you I would suggest that this free going sort is likely to shorten up in running whilst racing right up with the pace. In addition, given he just about stayed the three miles at Newbury on his penultimate start, one would imagine his jockey will be keen to turn this into a proper test in what could be very soft conditions by 2.40pm.

Another horse strong in the market this morning is the Brian Hughes – ridden Riders Onthe Storm and one would assume the support for him is weather related. He has excelled over course and distance when competing on his seasonal debut in two of the last three years. In 2021 he performed close to his best in the testing conditions when competing off a mark of 147 whilst carrying top weight of 12 stone 1lbs. I would suggest that his gruelling and hard-fought success in the 2020 Betfair Ascot Chase really impacted on his enthusiasm for this game. His first-time out effort last season offered some hope that the fire still burns inside him; conversely, his subsequent three efforts last season suggested that any enthusiasm he may have had for the racing game was short lived. I suspect that his performance today will be at least as good as any we are likely to witness with him for the rest of the season. I see him as a real hit or bust contender here and I would be backing him win only on the exchanges if he was the one for me. If Riders Onthe Storm did cause an upset in the Old Roan Chase my hope would be for him to win impressively before trading short next time when being brought back to race too soon.

Of the two outsiders, Captain Tom Cat would be the one most unsuited by any further ease in the ground. In fact, it would be no surprise to see him pulled out should the rain continue as predicted. I think it is a case of the softer the ground the more doubts I will hold about Captain Tom Cat.

Ga Law has some very good form attached to his name and his third-place finish in the 2020 Grade One Henry V111 Novices’ Chase would be as good as any form on offer here. Supporters of strict pounds per lengths theories will note that he finished eight lengths behind Hitman off level weights on that occasion and reopposes on 17lbs better terms here. On the downside, it would be some achievement to have him ready to win a race of this nature after a break of 603 days from the track.

 SIGNIFICANT DIARY NOTES

 Hitman

 

8th April 2022 – Aintree – After appearing to be going better than the eventual winner he was soon left quickly behind by the favourite before staying on to maintain his advantage over a likely non-stayer in third place. He has not looked the strongest of finishers on a couple of occasions in the past. I would prefer to remain open minded about him on that score here mainly in response to the pundits who seemed to be very excited by his graded prospects over this sort of trip next season. His trainer suggested post-race that he will eventually be suited to three miles which is interesting information; not least as his words are likely to impact on the market more than they should.

 

12th February 2022 – Newbury – The fact of the matter with him is that he has won two non-competitive races that took next to no winning in his ten chases to date. I suspect he is overrated, and, at the same time, his okay run here may have had something to do with the form of the Ditcheat yard. He has often appeared in need of an intermediate trip and, at the same time, has twice failed to convince over a distance beyond the minimum trip.

 

4th December 2021 – Sandown – I suspect he is going to need a soft surface to give him a chance against the best two-mile horses. The Melling Chase at Aintree in April appears to be his most obvious spring target. Paul Nicholls is in the best of form at the moment which will not always be the case.

 

2nd November 2021 – Exeter – It is more than possible that we will see him held onto for longer next time. He settled well here; however, as with Aintree he had nothing left in the closing stages after hitting the front a fair way from home. I am not sure if he tired or idled and suspect it was a bit of both. He is highly regarded though will have a tougher time of things on ratings once stepped up to conditions races. He was in receipt of 13lbs from his stable mate who clearly needed the run.

 

8th April 2021 – Aintree – He was quite keen again and took up the running after the second fence down the far side when the favourite was pulled up. He made a mistake at the next fence and was not always foot perfect. He was still much better than the eventual runner up over his obstacles. He poached a two-length lead in between the final two fences but was soon reeled in by the winner and then lost second place close to the finish. I am not sure how good a Grade One race this was; however, he is clearly decent and may improve again when he learns to settle. It was fascinating to hear Paul Nicholls consider keeping Monmiral over hurdles for another season. He used Hitman as an example of a five-year-old struggling against older horses off close to level weights as a novice chaser. He also said Hitman will strengthen up and see out his race much better next season.

 

6th March 2021 – Newbury – After taking a very keen hold in his previous chases it was encouraging to see him settle so well out in front here. Hopefully this educational round will do him a lot of good before we see him again. This was no more than a school round and his jumping was exemplary aside from getting the fourth last fence wrong. He will be giving Cheltenham a miss and waiting for Aintree which seems very sensible. He could be interesting if competing against horses that have had a tough race at Cheltenham.

 

Do Your Job

 

2nd April 2022 – Ayr – This was a particularly smooth performance for a horse that has had one or two issues with his jumping in the past. This was an exemplary jumping display and he won with plenty in hand at the line. It is possible that this extra half-a-mile has been the making of him. Personally, I would prefer to remain open minded on that score for now. I do think he found the jumping easier off this slower pace; however, the third horse did not stay, and the runner up jumped badly out to his right, whilst the only other finisher was outclassed according to the handicapper; thus, leaving a big question mark next to the quality of the form.

At the same time, he did do the job well and could only beat what was put in front of him. My main reason for staying open minded is due to the likelihood of the market responding as if it is now an absolute given that he has improved for this longer distance. Conversely, as good as he appeared here, I still think there are question marks attached to each of his latest two successes.

 

26th February 2022 – Newcastle – I am unsure how to rate this form as he has been sent north to compete against exposed handicappers and has only just prevailed in a tight finish. He was stepping up in trip, but I would not want to be categorical about his newfound stamina in a race that unfolded like this one. The clear leader tied up in the closing stages thus offering the easiest of targets to aim at; furthermore, the runner up is an exposed nine-year-old handicapper with nothing to hide.

 

29th January 2022 – Doncaster – He did not seem to travel well through this race compared with his performance in the Wayward Lad. Maybe he had an off day; however, either way he looked one paced and laboured from a long way out and was booked for a remote third of three until the pace setter came down at the final fence.

 

27th December 2021 – Kempton – This was an excellent performance as he jumped and travelled well and appeared to be going as well as the favourite on the turn into the home straight. He was quickly left behind as the winner surged clear in a matter of strides on the approach to the second last fence. However, he beat the only other challenger very easily and will not always come up against a novice as good as the one that beat him here. He could be underestimated on the back of this comprehensive looking defeat; especially if he faces a well-regarded sort from a top yard with no substance to his chasing form.

 

4th December 2021 – Sandown – He seemed to be going very well when coming down at the first of the Railway Fences which was too early to guess what might have happened. He looked a tad unlucky here as he jumped the fence well enough but just lost his landing gear soon after the fence. I have marked him up on this performance as I think it will be missed by many.

 

9th April 2021 – Aintree – Hopefully he will show his fences more respect next season as he tends to lack fluency over these smaller obstacles. I doubt it would have made the difference between winning and losing given the ease of the winner’s success; nevertheless, he may well have got to the leader earlier and given him something to think about.

 

6th March 2021 – Kelso – This probably looks better in the form book than it is in reality. The horses that finished behind him did not jump with fluency and earned his 135 rating via poor quality novice hurdle races at Ayr and Carlisle. He may be best on a softer surface so plenty of hope for him to be competitive in a handicap.

 

2nd January 2021 – Sandown – I thought he ran well for a long way without ever looking sharp enough to trouble the winner, even on this deep ground. Presumably he will excel when stepped up in distance as a chaser next season. His trainer suggests he is the best horse he has ever trained.

 

Millers Bank

 

26th April 2022 – Punchestown – Maybe he is another in the field who had the edge taken off him at Aintree. However, if we took this race in isolation, we could only conclude that he blatantly failed to see out this three-mile trip. His trainer stated after Aintree that he would “appreciate a step up to three miles”. Consequently, it will be interesting to see if the trainer blames the quick turnaround rather than the extra half a mile for his tame finish.

 

7th April 2022 – Aintree – This was a beautiful ride from his jockey as he stayed off the pace throughout before asking his mount for extra at the second last fence. He was briefly outpaced before joining the leading pair and going clear of them very quickly. I suspect there was an element of the front two horses going too fast and stopping which accentuated his winning margins. That said, he was still very impressive which is something he has been promising for a while. His work rider said that this was the best he had been in all the time he has worked him.

 

26th February 2022 – Kempton – The winner put in an excellent round of jumping and so it is to the runner ups credit that he was able to run such an experienced novice so close at the line. He jumped well and was very good when it mattered over the final fence; unfortunately, the winner was even quicker over the last and that difference was significant at the winning post. He was running for the first time after wind surgery and certainly put in an improved display compared with the last time he met the winner at Newbury in February.

 

1st January 2022 – Cheltenham – He lost his position down the far side and was well beaten when unseating his rider four out.

 

26th November 2021 – Newbury – After the Nicholls horse fell, he was left clear and remained so until falling two out. I would suggest it was far from certain what would have happened between him and the eventual winner if he had stood up.

 

8th April 2021 – Aintree – I am not sure where this performance came from; however, until we see something different, I would prefer to think he has improved a fair bit for the step up in trip. Apparently, he will be going chasing next season which his trainer is understandably very excited about.

 

6th March 2021 – Newbury – Although this wide margin success probably flatters him, at the same time his 4/7 record over hurdles is very encouraging. His new mark will be close to 150 and make life very difficult for him in the short term. The two favourites ran no race here and I doubt this form is worth as much as a consequence.

 

9th January 2021 – Kempton – On the balance of the day he was probably helped by staying wide.

 

Beakstown

 

23rd April 2022 – Sandown – He can be marked up as doing easily the best of the four pace setters. He only tired on the approach to the final fence and was probably given too aggressive a ride from four out to the point he stopped.

 

1st April 2022 – Ayr – After racing prominently throughout he took control of the race on the turn for home. I suspect he had more in hand than it looked in the finish and he could easily be a horse to win again now he has got that initial success over fences to his name. it might be worth remembering that his trainer feels he neds plenty of space in his races. The wide-open course at Ayr and this single figure filed size will both have been in his favour. His jockey said he kicked on because sometimes in a battle he may not be the strongest. He also said this was his trip on good ground and on a flat track.

 

26th February 2022 – Kempton – It was interesting to hear Dan Skelton talk before the race about his horses need to not be crowded. He raced wide for a lot of the race and pressed the leader down the far side. He was soon run out of the first three places, and I want to remember his trainer’s words on another day should he line up in a big field chase again.

 

29th January 2022 – Cheltenham – I am not sure what his problems were’ however, he does appear to be improving race to race. Perhaps, this apparent progress is merely in line with the rate he is coming down the handicap. He competed off 125 here and had run well in the 2020 festival off 139 and in December 2019 over this course and distance off 139 behind Mister Fisher. He may have been helped by racing prominently throughout; furthermore, he won’t make the cut for the festival handicaps so presumably his trainer will have something in mind for him prior to March. Without Imperial Alcazar he would have appeared to be a most impressive winner himself.

 

Soldier Of Destiny

 

17th December 2021 – Ascot – It may be worth remembering how strong he was in the market for this maiden hurdle. I suppose it is also possible that this was simply due to the wide margin of his recent PTP success. Either way he was being driven and looked beaten on the turn for home. He stayed wide and tracked a horse that ultimately pulled up so had nothing else to race with. This may have played some part in determining his losing margin.

 

Riders Onthe Storm

 

1st January 2022 – Cheltenham – It may well be a case of him needing a longer rest in between his races. He was involved in a particularly gruelling contest at Aintree less than a month ago. He over raced in this contest and gave himself no chance of lasting home which adds to the likelihood of him returning to compete too soon. It took him a long time to recover from his success in the Betfair Ascot Chase and so it is to be hoped that the combination of this effort and his Aintree performance does not take a toll on his mental wellbeing.

 

4th December 2021 – Aintree – The handicapper has kept him on 147 which is about right given he finished last of two finishers. I suspect he took a long time to get over his gruelling winning the 2020 Betfair Ascot Chase so this return to something like his form was very pleasing. Now he is clearly in better spirits he may prove to be well handicapped off 147. He may be overlooked once he has recovered from this tough test in the mud.

 

20th February 2021 – Ascot – Once again he ran below par and he has simply not been the same horse since winning this race in 2020. That was a particularly gruelling affair and maybe it just took its toll. Alternatively his performance here mirrored many of those from his stable mates in recent weeks. Maybe we should judge him after the Twiston-Davies yard returns to form.

 

9th January 2021 – Kempton – Once the favourite departed at the second fence the complexion of the race changed completely. The leader enjoyed an untroubled lead which made life very difficult for the hold-up horses; especially as the ground would have been quicker than ideal. All of his best form is when he has competed on soft or heavy ground; consequently, he was really tapped for toe when it mattered. He was chased up at the fourth last to try and get close to the winner. Unfortunately, he came out much the second best at that fence. Sam Twiston-Davies then needed to really drive him hard from off the bend and attempted to get up the inside of the winner. He simply did not possess the required speed on this ground and paid for trying to win the race by losing second place after the third last fence. He has now run in two races that have not shown him in a good light. I don’t know whether he will be good enough to win the Ascot Chase again as it does seem to be turning into a hot renewal; however, I would suggest we might see an improved performance from him at Ascot assuming he competes on soft or heavy going.

 

9th November 2019 – Aintree – It was interesting to see STD take up the running halfway round the final bend. Often this can be far too early a move for a horse travelling all over his rivals. Consequently, as impressive as he already looked in the finish, I would tend to mark him up further. In terms of the time he took – the prominent horse Cepage ran a length or two down compared with the novice Champagne Mystery for most of their respective races. Cepage was ‘slightly in front’ of the Henderson novice at the line but that one was eased down considerably.

 

Captain Tom Cat

 

13th November 2021 – Cheltenham – Along with the eventual third horse to finish, he was competing for the second time in seven days. He appeared to handle this quick return better than Mick pastor until his unfortunate last fence fall. I think it might have been a close call for second place between him and Sebastopol if he had stood up. It was a shame to see him fall as he had generally jumped very well which is his usual pattern.

 

6th November 2021 – Wincanton – This was a steadily run race with a strong finish from three out to the line. This notion is supported by the time comparisons with the opening race on the card won by the 127 rated Kauto The King. In that 0-125 contest the front running 118 rated Midnight Midge matched the time of Captain Tom Cat from the first fence until three out. He was a few lengths behind the Dr Newland novice at the line in part due to a bad mistake at the final fence. Those time comparisons support the possibility that this will not have been the strongest of renewals of this grade two novices’ chase. It may be more than a coincidence that Captain Tom Cat’s four victories over the larger obstacles have all been earned when he has made the running in small field races. Conversely, his two defeats over fences coincide with the only times he has sat in behind the leaders. There may well be more to it than that; however, for now I will tend to mark him up when competing in a small field race where he appears likely to enjoy an untroubled lead. He jumped out to his left here and will also probably be better going left-handed.

 

9th October 2021 – Chepstow – Another horse in this race to be massively flattered by an elevated rating gained whilst competing in weakly contested races. That said his excellent jumping could stand him in good stead on another day if allowed to lead in a small field race.

 

Ga Law

 

27th February 2021 – Kempton – Unfortunately he never jumped with any fluency which gave him no chance in this company. This was his first chase in a long time so maybe he will be better next time we see him.

 

5th December 2020 – Sandown – After managing to dominate his rivals in each of his previous three chases he possibly struggled here due to the presence of Allmankind. He could never quite get to him and probably paid for his efforts to do so by tiring up the hill. Whether or not he really handled the conditions is open to debate; however, I would be happier having him on my side on less taxing ground on another day.

 

7th November 2020 – Wincanton – He made all the running and was particularly fast and fluent over his fences. He beat nothing in the process, however, as the odds-on favourite was found to have had a respiratory issue after the race. That said he could prove difficult to keep tabs on in a similar graded race as he would certainly exploit any jumping frailties in his rivals if he repeated the quality of this display.

 

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