Daryl says Goshen has optimum conditions to score
Chantry House can outclass opposition
Better Days Ahead is no second string for Elliott at Navan
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Chantry House - 11/43.75 on the Betfair Sportsbook - looks the way to go in this weak contest, having run well for this column when third in a big-field handicap at Cheltenham 21 days ago after almost a year off the track.
He left a good impression finishing off his race strongly returned to hurdles, and with that race clocking a good figure, he is fancied to score here in calmer waters. This is by far the weakest contest Chantry House has faced in his career with the top-rated horses outside of him, the 11-year-old On The Blind Side, who has looked very much on the downgrade in the last 18 months and outside of that one, the top rated is 133 - Dolphin Square another who has looked out of sorts for some time.
While it could be wise to think connections want to get him qualified for the Pertempts Final - and he could easily finish fourth if they want to - there is little place to hide in such a small field which lacks any quality, so Chantry House is hardly going to be hit hard by the handicapper should he be victorious.
Nicky Henderson's runner is very lightly raced still after just four outings over hurdles, and his only visit to this track was a winning one, albeit in a two-runner affair over fences. Still, his right-handed record reads PU, 1, 1 UR, including both point to points.
The class can prevail in what will be a slog in the mud. Back him at 2/13.00 or bigger.
Zambella - 13/82.63 on the Betfair Sportsbook - looks like a good bet on a seasonal return to take the scalp of old rivals Pink Legend and Sacre Coeur to confirm her authority in this division.
Nigel Twiston-Davies' mare has recently held Pink Legend at Huntingdon (6/5f and 12/1), Doncaster, Uttoxeter and Warwick. She had been behind Pink Legend on both occasions at Cheltenham and once at Perth; however, her Perth run came over 3m in which she was a non-stayer, and she only fell victim to her late in the day after a blunder at the last flight saw the tank empty. Her Cheltenham runs have been below her best.
Today, Zambella makes her seasonal return, and although yet to win off such a break, she hasn't run over her right trip with a defeat to Fantastic Lady last term on reappearance, which saw her travel all over the 145-rated Henderson horse before folding at the death over 3m.
Her three previous years saw her running over 2m over hurdles, but confidence can be taken from her performance last season, starting out over her correct distance of 2m4f.
Zambella is bidding to win this race for the third time, so connections have likely made this an early season target, while her only run at this venue (2022 renewal staged at Carlisle) resulted in a decisive victory.
The eight-year-old has form figures on soft or worse ground reading 411112111 since September 2020, while outside of the Cheltenham festival, her form figures at this trip read 211111121, and over this trip in field sizes of six or less like today, they read 21111121.
Of her rivals, Pink Legend rates this as the biggest threat, but her Aintree record wouldn't inspire with form figures of PU, 4, 0. If she arrives in her best form, she should give the selection something to consider, but her best efforts have come in the spring, and she shouldn't be favourite over Zambella. This is a trip too short for Burrows Diamond, and Le Renommee has a bit to do on the figures, while Sacre Coeur wants better ground than this.
I make Zambella a 10/111.91 chance, so any bigger than evens is an acceptable play.
I put up Better Days Ahead - 13/27.50 on the Betfair Sportsbook - for the Albert Bartlett on the Cheltenham Festival Focus column last week at 33/134.00. I hope he does me a good turn here despite being seemingly unfavoured by Jack Kennedy.
The Bective Stud-owned five-year-old is yet to be seen to best effect and has been crying out for a more authentic run race. He was an effortless winner at Fairyhouse 15 days ago when scoring in a canter in a below-par field, but he had previously shaped very nicely at Down Royal before coming down at three out. He went off odds on there and was looking in command before his mishap but recorded a strong RPR of 130 despite falling, and that's eight pounds clear of what any of these have achieved to date, and that looked a fair race with some good collateral form lines.
He was brought for a hefty £350,000 after his point-to-point victory in 2022, and the recent fitting of the tongue tie seems to have worked well. He has the book's most substantial piece of form with a bumper win over the useful Chapeau De Soleil. Today's distance is of no concern considering the boot he showed when clocking a quicker time than Absolute Notions from the back of the second last at Fairyhouse 15 days ago, and he could potentially be smart.
Slade Steel has looked good, but the form book suggests he has work to do with Stellar Story, while that one's form is very muddling and hardly screaming of the 140-rated hurdler that would be expected to win this race. Stellar Story scored at Navan when well placed in a big field Maiden Hurdle. Still, he dictated a plodding affair, so he may have been flattered by his four-length victory over Largy Hill, who had to come from much further back - clocked far better closing sectionals - and is worth backing next time out.
Lecky Watson is not out of this but wouldn't want this to turn tactical.
However, with a good blend of speed and stamina, the Elliott "second string" gets the vote while the owners also sponsor the following race and won this with Ginto two years ago.
Back Better Days Ahead @ 7/24.50 or bigger.
Goshen - 9/25.50 on the Betfair Sportsbook - must have a fantastic chance today with the withdrawal of Constitution Hill and Shishkin out of this lineup. He was priced as a no-hoper with those in this race, but their removal must be music to the ears of Gary Moore, who has a right chance to land Goshen a soft Grade 1.
Goshen has recorded the highest RPR over hurdles of 163 and 160 in this field, and the latter came under today's optimum conditions. Not So Sleepy is now 11, and expecting him to reproduce his best RPR of 160 (in 2021) when his last two RPRs have read 143 and 115, showing a decline in form, is unwise. Goshen, however, loves this venue, and his record here reads 2111, with his latest defeat a neck to Knappers Hill in a slowly run affair over 2m5f.
This move back to a right-handed track, back on deep ground and back to 2m, is the first since winning the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, scoring excellently and recording an RPR of 161. Goshen was the only added entry to this race when it moved to his favoured Sandown, and the cheekpieces go back on too quickly after a lacklustre display on the ground at Ascot.
The cheekpieces concern many, given he finished last on both occasions last season. However, he wore them over fences on good ground (left-handed) and over hurdles at Fontwell when hanging violently right - he needs a right-handed track!
I want to take on both mares in this lineup. Love Envoi has been lacklustre on her last two seasonal reappearances and scrapped home in a handicap off 139 here last year (recording a terrible time), and she is a mare that wants further than 2m, but you won't be wanting for fitness here. You Wear It Well did well to win at Wetherby, but I have her rated on 143, and she will need much more to go close in this against the boys.
Goshen's record on soft ground reads 2213810UR1111 and few times has he had his outright optimum conditions. He won't get any better chances to win a Grade 1 than he has today, taking on two mares - one of which will need the run - and an 11-year-old. I make Goshen a strong bet today.
I love course winners at Aintree, and Brave Seasca - 13/27.50 on the Betfair Sportsbook - was a remarkable winner of this race last year when effortlessly coasting clear, looking like a graded horse in the making.
His RPR of 157 and his nine-pound rise in weight to a rating of 155 emphasized his impressive performance. If you had told me then that he would ever be in a 0-145 again, I would have told you you're crazy.
However, things haven't quite gone to plan since, but I am willing to chance him returning to this venue, having shown a little more on seasonal return at Exeter in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter.
The drop to 2m saw him outpaced for much of the contest, but he made some good headway on the turn into the home straight despite being forced wide before his lack of fitness showed.
Despite winning this race the first time out last year, his profile indicates that the second time out is when to catch him. He scored second time out at Huntingdon over hurdles in 2021, improving on his debut RPR by 20 lbs, and on seasonal return as a Novice Chaser later the same year, he improved his RPR by 36 lbs second time out. So perhaps there is hope that he will improve significantly for his Exeter run which was his first after 237 days and a wind surgery - the latter suggesting something may have been a miss during the off-season.
This race has been the target again for Venetia Williams, and the market has priced him overpriced on what he achieved here last term, so back him at 4/15.00 or bigger.