A 23-runner field following the withdrawal of Ballyhill and it looks to be one of the most wide-open races of the week.
Certain trainers have a good record in this contest and, therefore, it is a good idea to pay attention to any horses they have entered. Venetia Williams is one such trainer and she has both GARDEFORT and the novice DIDERO VALLIS running in here. The latter, in particular, was of some interest, off bottom weight, and it would not surprise me to see him run well back in trip having not really stayed the 3 miles last time.
Another trainer with a good record in the race is David Pipe and he runs EAMON AN CNOIC. He ran well for a long way in last year’s Ultima Chase but just found the trip stretching his stamina somewhat. He also ran well here in November and returned from a wind op to win at Chepstow last time out over a trip that is probably short of his best. He has been raised 7lbs for that win but still looks feasibly handicapped and, with ground conditions no issue, he could run a big race. The trainer form is the one negative for me but this is a race they like to target.
Course form and previous Festival form is always important and a horse who has a decent record at the track is DOITFORTHEVILLAGE. He will also like the prevailing ground conditions and he comes here with a very consistent profile, having won 7 of his 21 chase starts and been placed in a further 6. He finished 6th in last year’s Grand Annual but that was a race that was notable for a number of fallers and he was hampered on a couple of occasions on the way round. He has been consistent this season and he could run into a place at least at nice e/w odds.
Course form also leads me to the 3rd tip and, as much as I was tempted to go with SPLASH OF GINGE at a big price (who has good course form and was 2nd in this race last year of the same mark) I’ve come down on the side of KALONDRA. He’s a horse who needs a decent pace to aim at and I think he may get that here. He looks to be well-handicapped judged on his course-and-distance win just 15 months ago, in soft ground, and his 3rd place behind the now 154 rated Traffic Fluide, giving him 5lbs, last April here. He finished ahead of the likes of Frodon, Go Conquer and Ramses De Teillee that day so the form of the race looks rock solid. His trainer is in decent form and, although he has some jumping issues in the last 12 months, if getting a clear run round he could go very close.
I wouldn't be surprised to see either AZZERTI or SPIRITOFTHEGAMES go well here and both were originally aimed at The Novice chase on day 1 of the card with both missing out - one for not being high enough in the ratings and one being too high. They both come to this alternative engagement with live e/w chances.