Sky Bet Chase: Out of Lambourn and into Great Yorkshire battle

The Sky Bet Chase is the feature race from Doncaster on Saturday
The Sky Bet Chase is the feature race from Doncaster on Saturday

Timeform's Adam Houghton previews the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on Saturday...


"...he remains with potential from a mark of 136 that could seriously underestimate his ability..."

The Great Yorkshire Chase was run for the first time at Doncaster in 1948 and quickly became a key trial for the Grand National, with Freebooter (1950) landing the third renewal of the race en route to Aintree glory. The three-mile handicap has been known as the Sky Bet Chase since 2004, but it remains a leading winter target for horses with aspirations of making it to the start line for the world's greatest steeplechase and it would be no surprise to see Saturday's winner among the market leaders come April 8th.

Big Fella Thanks won the Sky Bet Chase as a novice in 2009 and belied his inexperience to finish sixth in the Grand National that same year, and is it another up-and-coming chaser that heads the betting for this year's renewal on Town Moor.

Bigbadjohn comes into this race on the back of just three starts over fences, but he can already boast a useful level of form to his name and looks potentially very well-handicapped from a BHA mark of 136 for his handicap debut. Indeed, the form he produced at Newbury to open his account in this discipline looks even better now. He had Our Kaempfer some six lengths behind on that occasion and, with that rival's subsequent exploits in mind (won easily from a mark of 138 at Kempton on Saturday), Bigbadjohn would appear to hold obvious claims and certainly deserves his place in the betting.

The Neil Mulholland-trained Southfield Royale was a useful novice himself last season, winning two of his first three starts (including C&D Grade 2 in cheekpieces for the first time) and running at least as well in defeat on two further occasions. The form of his fourth in the National Hunt Chase has worked out particularly well, with Native River (second), Vicente (fifth), Vieux Lion Rouge (sixth) and Noble Endeavor (making headway when fell two-out) all having won big handicaps since. He looks favourably treated from a mark of 147 and should run well if fit after nine months off the track.

Coologue was second to Southfield Royale in the aforementioned Grade 2 over C&D and improved further when filling the same position in this race 12 months ago. He is 5 lb higher in the weights after a successful reappearance at Cheltenham, though, and two below par efforts since suggest he has plenty to do this time round.

The nine-year-old Ballyboker Breeze is relatively lightly-raced for one of his age, but showed himself to be a fairly useful novice hurdler in 2014/15 and surpassed that level of form when returning from 13 months off the track to make a successful chasing debut at Perth last April. He disappointed slightly when a remote second on his seasonal debut at Kelso, but quickly resumed his progress with a dominant victory on his most recent outing in a Bangor handicap and has to enter calculations with the possibility of more to come in this sphere.

The same owner's Go Conquer is also interesting on the back of a good second at Kempton over Christmas. He proved his effectiveness at this trip when keeping on well to get within three and a half lengths of Double Shuffle on that occasion and is likely to have finished even closer but for a bad mistake that halted his momentum two-out. The form of his earlier second at Ascot is working out well (winner and fourth both successful since) and Go Conquer would have to be of interest if taking up this engagement (also entered at Cheltenham on Saturday).

Out Sam was a length behind Go Conquer when third in that Kempton contest and is 1 lb better off at the weights here. The pair appear fairly closely-matched on that evidence, but the suspicion remains that we are yet to see the very best of Our Sam over the larger obstacles. He looked promising when winning two of his first three starts - so promising that he went off favourite for the three-mile handicap at the Cheltenham Festival - but has been below that form for the most part since and was let down by jumping errors before falling on his penultimate outing at Cheltenham. There were more encouraging signs in first-time cheekpieces at Kempton, though, and he remains with potential from a mark of 136 that could seriously underestimate his ability.

Others to mention include the JP McManus-owned pair Regal Encore and Another Hero. They finished first and fourth respectively in the Silver Cup at Ascot last time, but the latter is arguably the more interesting of the pair this time round. Another Hero is 4 lb better off at the weights for a two and a half length beating and has certainly shown enough to suggest he will remain competitive from this mark, while the inconsistent Regal Encore makes little appeal as a betting proposition.

There is no doubt that Bigbadjohn is potentially thrown in from a mark of 136, and Big Fella Thanks and If In Doubt have only recently shown that inexperience is no barrier to success in this race. However, the market has already taken that into account and, at the prices, Out Sam looks the one to be with. Trainer Warren Greatrex clearly feels that there is a big prize in his charge and Out Sam could well justify that belief if putting together a better round of jumping than has often been the case, with Southfield Royale and Go Conquer completing the shortlist in what looks a typically competitive renewal of this race.


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