Although attracting a small field, there is an intriguing clash for racegoers to enjoy in the Highflyer Bloodstock Novices’ Chase, the feature race on Warwick’s Winter Warmer Raceday this afternoon, writes David Hucker.
Once restricted to four-year-olds, the race has been a stepping stone for some class performers over the years, going back to champion two-miler Voy Por Ustedes who won the first of his 11 chases when favourite for the 2005 running. Opening up the contest to older horses has not seen any significant increase in runners, with Sceau Royal beating his sole rival at odds of 1-16 last year and Top Notch overcoming just three opponents the year before.
Sceau Royal won the Grade 2 Shloer Chase at Cheltenham on Sunday and is a leading fancy for the two-mile championship back at the course in March so, despite the size of the fields, the race continues to feature horses of the highest quality.
Just three line up this afternoon and, with Sussex Road again out of his depth, this looks a match between 145-rated hurdler Djingle, who was tailed off on his British debut on heavy ground at Exeter back in February, and Pacific De Baune, who returns to action after wind surgery.
Although rated 6lb lower over the smaller obstacles, Pacific De Baune was a wide-margin scorer in his two Newbury wins and may come out best.
The Sodick “National Hunt” Novices’ Hurdle gets the seven-race card underway at 12.30pm, with Warwickshire trainers Dan Skelton, with five entries, and Olly Murphy with four, having plenty of options in the race.
Skelton has declared two, with brother Harry on Bbold, runner-up in his only point-to-point outing and seventh on his Rules debut at Cheltenham last month.
Wilmcote-based Murphy, who brought up his 100th career winner when Mizen Master scored at Fakenham this afternoon, also runs two, with Uttoxeter bumper winner We’Ve Got Payet looking to have plenty to do on his hurdles form so far and On Parole making his stable debut after finishing well down the field on his only start for Tom George.
Preference is for My Mate Mark, trained at Bourton-on-the-Water by Ben Pauling, who went down in a close finish on his first run for over a year at Bangor-on-Dee last time, with John Sillett’s Laughing Luis, disappointing on his hurdles debut over the course, rated the main danger.
Three of the races on the card are restricted to fillies and mares with the first being a qualifier for the Challenger Mares’ Staying Chase Series, for which the final takes place at Haydock Park next Easter.
Six runners will set out on the two-and-a-half mile trip for the Fourpenny Plate Mares’ Novices’ Handicap Chase with Black Tulip, a course winner over hurdles last December, fancied to beat hat-trick seeking top-weight Marienstar.
There is an Irish raider in the Thoroughbred Breeders Association Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in the shape of Wexford winner Biddy The Boss, who travels from Gavin Cromwell’s County Meath stable.
She is penalised for that success and may not give the weight away to Nicky Henderson’s point-to-point winner She Mite Bite, who is by Scorpion, the same sire as for the stable’s star staying chaser Might Bite.
Henderson’s Malchite tops the weights in the Sodick Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle over two miles and three furlongs and should improve for his seasonal debut at Cheltenham last month but has to give a stone in weight to Outcrop who looks to follow up his Sedgefield win.
Just three line up for the Smarkets Carlow Veterans’ Handicap Chase, the ninth leg of the Veterans’ Chase Series, with Exitas and Beat That renewing rivalry after their run over Aintree’s Mildmay course three weeks ago.
Exitas won easily that day, but has been raised 10lb for his success, which should bring them closer together this time. At his best, Beat That was rated at a lofty 160 over hurdles but has not impressed over fences and may come off second best again.
The largest field of the day lines up for the closing Smarkets David Nicholson Memorial Fillies’ ‘Junior’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race, in which Eyes Right is taken to win for trainer Alan King, who learnt his trade with Nicholson in whose memory the race is run each year.