Twenty-six horses remain engaged in Saturday's Ladbrokes Trophy, with the weights headed by Elegant Escape, runner-up to Sizing Tennessee last year when Colin Tizzard trained both the first two. The going was soft on that occasion, and similarly testing conditions would be in strong stayer Elegant Escape's favour again this time in his bid to go one better after returning with a good second in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. However, Denman, who achieved the feat twice, was the last winner of the race to carry as much as 11-12 to victory. Unlike that horse, Elegant Escape isn't yet established as quite being up to Gold Cup standard - he finished sixth at Cheltenham in March - but a number of winners of this contest, known for most of its long history as the Hennessy Gold Cup, have progressed sufficiently to go on to Gold Cup glory.
The most recent of those is Elegant Escape's stablemate Native River, successful in 2016 before following up in the Welsh National (Elegant Escape went one better in the same race last year after Newbury) and then winning the Gold Cup the following season. Among four entries for the same stable, which also include last year's fifth West Approach who picks up a penalty for a win at Cheltenham a fortnight ago, the six-year-old Mister Malarky has a similar profile to Native River. Mister Malarky's three wins last season included the Reynoldstown Novices' Chase with a strong staying performance at Ascot, while he signed off his novice campaign with an excellent second in a competitive Grade 3 handicap at Aintree. If a heavy defeat back at Ascot on his reappearance can be overlooked - and there are grounds for doing so given his absence beforehand and some sloppy jumping - Mister Malarky looks a leading contender.
Nicky Henderson is another trainer to have won the race with a future Gold Cup winner - Bobs Worth in 2012 - and has a couple of likely types prominent in the betting in his bid to win it for the fourth time in all. Ok Corral and On The Blind Side both showed plenty of ability in very light first seasons over fences last term. Aged nine, Ok Corral is older than most past winners, but he hasn't had much racing and won both his first two starts last term before being pulled up, after twice being hampered, in the National Hunt Chase at the Festival. He can be forgiven that run, and has a good record first time out, so the lack of a recent race isn't too much of a concern, while his King George entry also takes the eye.
On The Blind Side does have a recent run under his belt, and it was an eye-catching one when fourth to Vinndication in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot, the same race in which Mister Malarky returned to action. His two runs at Cheltenham last season, admittedly in hot company, were poor, but his beating of the subsequent bet365 Gold Cup winner Talkischeap at Kempton in between looks a good piece of form.
Among other trainers who have had success in the race before, Paul Nicholls' sole entry is mudlark Yala Enki who has joined the Ditcheat team after enjoying plenty of success for Venetia Williams. Third behind Elegant Escape in last season's Welsh National, he's another with a good record fresh. Alan King, successful with Smad Place in 2015, tries again with last year's third Dingo Dollar. He's been given the same prep as last year, going one better than twelve months ago when third over hurdles at Newbury's meeting earlier in the month. With that run behind him, and on a lower mark than in his 2018 attempt, Dingo Dollar makes some each-way appeal, particularly if he's ridden with a bit more restraint than was the case in last year's race.
Willie Mullins won the first running of the Newbury race as the Ladbrokes Trophy in 2017 with Total Recall, though he wasn't exactly a stranger to success in the old 'Hennessy' in which Be My Royal passed the post fifteen years earlier only to be disqualified on technical grounds. A newcomer to the yard, Total Recall had won his only previous start for Mullins when impressively landing a gamble in the Munster National at Limerick, and not even an 18 lb higher mark at Newbury could prevent him from following up.
There are obvious similarities between Total Recall and Mullins' chief hope this year, Cabaret Queen, she too an impressive winner of a competitive-looking Munster National last time when drawing clear from the home turn to win by thirteen lengths. Also like Total Recall, Cabaret Queen had not been with Mullins for very long. Previously with Dan Skelton, Cabaret Queen had won her first two starts over fences for her former trainer, but jumping lapses had been the main reason she hadn't added to those successes. However, she has been more polished in that department in her two starts in Ireland, and with further improvement to come she could prove a different proposition on her return to British soil. Although all her previous wins had been on good ground, Cabaret Queen showed she handled heavy going last time, so any further rain shouldn't harm her chances.
Cabaret Queen looks like being accompanied by stablemate Yorkhill, last seen in Britain contesting the 2018 Champion Hurdle. Mullins has tried all sorts to revive the fortunes of the former dual Festival winner, finally getting another win out of him in a minor event over fences at the Galway Festival, but Yorkhill has plenty to prove in a race this competitive, even if the return to a left-handed track should suit.
Otherwise, Irish hopes rest with Gordon Elliott's runner Borice who completed a summer hat-trick (after winning a couple of novice hurdles in Britain) in the Galway Plate when in receipt of lumps of weight from runner-up Black Corton. It's interesting that his trainer has kept him for this race, rather than one of Ireland's staying handicap chases in which he has such a good record.
Others worth a mention in what looks set to be a more competitive line-up than last year's twelve-runner field are Emma Lavelle's second-season chaser De Rasher Counter, open to further improvement for his in-form yard, The Conditional, who beat West Approach at Cheltenham on his second start for David Bridgwater, and Two Taffs, who showed plenty of promise for Dan Skelton as a novice and returned from more than two years off the track with a good showing over hurdles at Wetherby earlier in the month.
Back Cabaret Queen at 7/1 in the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury on Saturday