Timeform's Andrew Asquith previews Saturday's Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton and picks out his best bet.
"The fact that he is possibly a fair bit ahead of his mark counterbalances that and, at odds of around 10/1, he is worth chancing..."
A quick look through the entries for this year's renewal and you can quickly identify several who could be plying their trade in graded company come the end of the season. One who certainly fits that bill is the current ante-post favourite Diese des Bieffes, who finished runner-up to the very promising If The Cap Fits (general second favourite for the Supreme) in a novice hurdle over two miles here on Boxing Day. He was outpaced on the home turn that day but rallied approaching the last, and his pedigree suggests this longer trip will suit, too; he should be very competitive from an opening mark of 135.
Another of a similar ilk is Spiritofthegames, who picked up where he left off nine months earlier when winning a handicap at Lingfield in November, deserving extra credit for coming from off the pace in a race where the early gallop was steady. He will stay at least three miles in time, but this trip is fine for now, and a subsequent 5 lb rise could underestimate him.
Topofthegame looks every inch a chaser and was all the rage in the market switched to that discipline on his return at Newbury in November. Despite failing to complete, he travelled smoothly and was yet to be asked a question when falling five out. He surely has a future in that sphere but, given the level of form he showed over hurdles last season, a mark of 139 does look attractive, and you can see why connections are thinking of taking this route in the shorter term.
Nicky Henderson could also revert William Henry back to timber following an unsuccessful chasing debut at Cheltenham in November. A useful novice hurdler last season, he had a rather unfortunate start over fences, belting the first and going with little confidence thereafter, his cause already looking hopeless when a slipping saddle ended his involvement. His strong-travelling style means he's tailor-made for a race of this nature and, though the handicapper hasn't taken any chances with his mark, he remains with potential as a hurdler.
The Harry Fry-trained Bags Groove is an improved performer this season, progressing again to win a handicap over this C&D last time, responding generously to pressure and seeming suited by this trip. He is in excellent hands and seems sure to give another good account, but a further 5 lb rise in the weights demands more, and he looks short enough in the betting at this stage.
J.P. McManus owned last year's winner Modus and his River Frost looks another prime candidate having shaped well on his return at Chepstow in October. That race could have hardly worked out any better - it has produced seven individual future winners, including Sam Spinner, who is the current favourite for the Stayers' Hurdle - and he has likely been saved for a big handicap such as this. River Frost finished around two lengths in front of Bags Groove that day and, given he meets that rival on 9 lb better terms now, it's hard to fathom the price disparity between them in the market. River Frost wasn't at all given a hard time and, though it could be seen as a negative that we haven't seen him since, Alan King has his string in flying form at present and a big run could be on the cards.
Others worth mentioning include Coeur Blimey, who won a heavy-ground two-mile handicap at Wincanton by eight lengths last month, but was let down by his jumping in the Kennel Gate Novices' Hurdle at Ascot last time. He can go well returned to a handicap provided he jumps better. The likes of Irving and Jenkins are potentially very well handicapped, and Irving wasn't disgraced when brushed aside by Buveur d'Air in the Fighting Fifth last time, but he does have to shoulder top weight here.
At the time of writing the ground at Kempton is currently soft, good to soft in places, and with a relatively dry week forecast, the ground could be closer to good all round come Saturday afternoon. There are plenty of unexposed sorts among the entries, and it's hard to rule any out, but the one that sticks out is River Frost. He very much caught the eye on his reappearance in a race that has worked out remarkably well, and his trainer Alan King could hardly be in better form at present. The one slight concern is we haven't seen him since October, but the fact that he is possibly a fair bit ahead of his mark counterbalances that and, at odds of around 10/1, he is worth chancing.
Back River Frost to win the Lanzarote Hurdle at 10/1 at Kempton on Saturday