The Racing Plus Chase is Saturday's feature handicap and Tony McFadden has previewed the race...
"It is difficult not to be impressed by both the raw form and obvious potential for further improvement that Rolling Aces brings to the table..."
Spectators at Kempton have been treated to some remarkable displays from greys such as Desert Orchid and One Man, who dazzled the packed grandstands with their bold, fluent rounds of jumping in the King George. While undoubtedly lacking the class of those two esteemed horses, Nacarat has earned his fair share of admirers, his two victories in the valuable Racing Plus Chase, as well as two placed efforts in between, undoubtedly helping his popularity.
Considering Nacarat decimated last year's field, romping to victory by 11 lengths, the fact he is able to compete from a BHA mark only 1 lb higher should, theoretically, give him exceptional claims of notching his third win in the race. However, not only is he now a year older, fully deserving of veteran status as a 12-year-old, he looks sure to face a much stronger line-up, headlined by two progressive young chasers in the form of Wyck Hill and Rolling Aces.
Trained by David Bridgewater, Wyck Hill has attracted plenty of money in the ante-post market, his beating of Katenko at Ascot handsomely advertised by the subsequent exploits of Venetia Williams' charge. Racing from 6 lb out of the handicap, Wyck Hill put in a superb round of jumping at Ascot, racing with plenty of zest and enthusiasm as he, along with Katenko, dominated the race, the contest essentially a duel after Hold On Julio departed in dramatic style three out. Even when strongly challenged, however, Wyck Hill always looked like he was in control, battling gallantly after the final fence to see off his major rival, prevailing by four lengths.
That victory was another step in the right direction for the lightly-raced, progressive nine-year-old, following on from an encouraging seasonal return at Wetherby where his fluent jumping was once again seen to great effect, and it is by no means impossible that he will find another chunk of improvement.
The key point to Wyck Hill's chances is the fact Katenko has since registered tremendously impressive victories at Sandown and Cheltenham, his BHA rating rising by 22 lb; Wyck Hill, having his first start since, gets to compete from a mark a mere 7 lb higher, making him of obvious interest on Saturday.
Before we all start piling in, however, it is worth pointing out that Katenko has improved dramatically from that British chasing debut, looking like a better horse now than the one who finished four lengths behind Wyck Hill. Also, Bridgewater's runner is not the only progressive horse in the race with strong form credentials as Paul Nicholls looks set to saddle Rolling Aces, the winner of one of the strongest handicap chases run all season.
The novice handicap chase won by Rolling Aces may have been a supporting race to the illustrious Hennessy Gold Cup, run on the same day, however it has produced numerous subsequent winners; in fact, out of the first five home at Newbury, Merry King was the only one that failed to win on his next start, going down by the narrowest of margins to Cannington Brook in the prestigious Tommy Whittle Chase.
It therefore stands to reason that Rolling Aces had to produce a big performance to defy a host of well-handicapped rivals; he did just that, producing a thoroughly likeable display in the extended 22-furlong contest, jumping fluently, travelling well and responding gamely under pressure to assert in the closing stages.
Having displayed all the attributes you would want from a top staying chaser, it was a slight surprise to see him drop back in distance, running over 21 furlongs at Wincanton on Boxing Day, but he once again created a good impression, seeing off Opening Batsmen in ready fashion, drawing 11 lengths clear. Opening Batsmen, who is due to reoppose on Saturday, subsequently bolstered the form, defying a BHA mark of 134 on his handicap bow, and it is difficult not to be impressed by both the raw form and obvious potential for further improvement that Rolling Aces brings to the table.
One at a bigger price worthy of consideration is the Phillip Hobbs-trained Duke of Lucca. An encouraging seasonal return, finishing second at Ascot, was followed by a rare poor run in the Hennessy where he never threatened to feature, but the assessor has kindly dropped him 4 lb and he looks reasonably well treated based on the pick of his novice form. He comes with risks attached, but he probably has a greater chance than his odds imply.
Same Difference was possibly flattered to finish so close to Unioniste and Hadrian's Approach at Newbury last time, the two principals engaging in a game of cat and mouse for much of the way, but there was still plenty to like about the way he went through the race, jumping better than had been the case earlier in his career and sticking to his task well. He is another not without a chance, though he possibly lacks the scope for improvement of the two market leaders.
In truth, much of the ante-post value appears to have vanished from this race as, quite rightly, the progressive duo Wyck Hill and Rolling Aces have attracted support. Both horses boast solid form and it is highly likely that they still have more to offer, the novice Rolling Aces making particularly strong appeal as he goes in search of the hat-trick.
Back Rolling Aces @ 4.67/2 in the Racing Plus Chase