IT has been difficult to plan all week, with all the frost and all the double entries.
Ascot is long gone and Taunton went yesterday and Haydock are inspecting at 8.00am today. Hopefully they pass. At least Navan were sounding optimistic yesterday.
More than half the 13 five-day entries for Haydock’s feature race today, the Peter Marsh Chase, have defected, which leaves us with the smallest Peter Marsh Chase field in years.
Bristol De Mai beat 13 rivals when he won it as a six-year-old back in 2017, for example, when he came clear in the home straight and won by over 20 lengths.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horse has doubled in age since then and, having pushed his handicap rating to a zenith of 173, he is back down to 154 now, the mark off which he won this race six years ago.
Of course, not many things are the same as they were six years ago, and Bristol De Mai is obviously not as good as he was when he was winning all those Betfair Chases in the interim, nor when he was finishing third in the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
That said, he proved that he retained lots of ability with his run in the Betfair Chase last time.
He ran better than his finishing position suggests that day. His jumping wasn’t as efficient as it can be, yet he still led into the home straight, until he was joined by Protektorat at the fourth last fence, and he just tired from the third last.
The handicapper dropped him by another 4lb for that run, back down to his 2017 winning mark of 154, and that was more than fair.
Interestingly, he has only run in two handicaps in the six years that have flowed under the bridge since he won this race.
The first of those was in the 2021 Grand National, Minella Times’ Grand National, in which he was pulled up, and the second was in the Grand National Trial at Haydock in February last year, when he raced off a mark of 159, 5lb higher than today’s mark, and in which he was second past the post to The Galloping Bear, 20 lengths clear of his other rivals, before subsequently being awarded the race.
Drop in grade
He should appreciate the drop back down in grade today into handicap company. And we know that he loves Haydock, heavy ground at Haydock, which he should get today. His record on heavy ground at Haydock officially reads 1111.
You can see why Fontaine Collonges is favourite. She battled on well to get the better of The Big Breakaway on soft ground over today’s course and distance in November, and she probably wasn’t ideally suited by the track when she could finish only fourth behind Remastered at Kempton over Christmas. She is progressive, but she probably shouldn’t be as far in front of Bristol De Mai in the betting as she is.
Empire Steel was nicely backed yesterday, and Blaklion, another veteran who goes well at Haydock, could run well at a decent price, but Bristol De Mai is the bet.
Stellar Magic could also go well in the Racing TV Club Day Handicap Hurdle a half an hour later.
Philip Hobbs’ horse did really well on his only previous run at Haydock, in December last season, when he was only just caught by last weekend’s Lanzarote Hurdle third Up For Parol in a handicap hurdle run over two miles and three furlongs.
He didn’t really progress from that last season, and he was pulled up on his debut this term, but he was much better last time at Wincanton on St Stephen’s Day, when he only just gave best to Steal A March in a Pertemps qualifier there.
He wore cheekpieces for just the second time in his life that day, and he put one of the best performances of his career, so it is a positive that they are retained today.
The handicapper raised him by 4lb for that run to a mark of 135, but even a reproduction of that run could take him close today, even off his higher mark, back down into a Class 3 contest, a 0-140 race. And the return to Haydock, to soft ground at Haydock, could elicit further improvement.
Itchy Feet is interesting, back over hurdles for the first time since he ran in the Rendlesham Hurdle here almost two years ago. His lack of fluency has held him back over fences and, third in the 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he is 4lb lower over hurdles than he is over fences.
He is a danger, as is the unbeaten and progressive De Legislator, but Stellar Magic could be the value of the race.
Bristol De Mai, 2.40 Haydock, 11/4 (generally), 1pt win.
Stellar Magic, 3.10 Haydock, 9/1 (generally), 1pt win.