After a miserably wet winter it looks like Britain is in for a sustained dry spell and the ground at quick-drying Kempton Park on Saturday seems likely to be predominately good.
That means, more than ever, speed rather than stamina will be essential in the 3m Close Brothers Handicap Chase, a race that looks tailor-made for the Tom George-trained Clondaw Castle, who is chalked up at 8-1 by bet365 and William Hill.
The nine-year-old has never run much beyond 2m 4f in his 19 runs under Rules but he’s never been stopping when winning/running over that trip and is certainly bred to stay, being by Oscar out of a Presenting mare. He won his point as a four-year-old, too, by keeping on well to beat the useful Springtown Lake.
When you flick back through previous winners of this race, it’s also clear that proven stamina is anything but essential in this contest. Master Dee (2018), Pilgrim Bay (2017), Opening Batsman (2013) and Nacarat (2009) had never previously run over 3m, while Walt (2019), Theatre Guide (2016) and Bally Legend (2014) had not won over so far.
The flat terrain at the Sunbury venue favours the pace merchants, rather than the grinders, and what’s also apparent is that young legs are favoured. In the past 21 renewals at Kempton (the 2006 running was staged at Sandown) only two horses aged 10 or older have won and one of those was the George-trained Nacarat, who was winning the race for a second time and had few peers at the track.
Clondaw Castle has done little wrong through his career and half-threatened to win the Arkle in 2019 before fading late on. We didn’t see much of him the following season but he signed off with a commanding win over 2m 4f at Warwick and this campaign began with a fine second in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree before being a convincing winner at Newbury.
Since then, he has run as well as could be expected to be placed in Grade Two races won by Mister Fisher, at Cheltenham, and then Master Tommytucker, here at Kempton.
He will meet largely exposed opposition on Saturday off a mark only 3lb higher than at Newbury and the better going will also be in his favour, with six of his eight career wins being achieved on ground that he the word “good” in the going description. In addition, he is a sound jumper who is versatile regards tactics and Jonathan Burke, aboard for his win at Newbury but missing since, has been inked in to ride.
The combination will need some luck in running if the majority of the other 18 entered stand their ground but, all things being equal, he seems sure to run a big race.
George could also be represented by course specialist Double Shuffle but the 11-year-old, also quoted at 8-1, has suffered three previous defeats in this race and his window may have passed.
Cap Du Nord has been in fine form this winter and heads the market at about 5-1 but he’s 19lb higher than when winning at Newbury in November and I thought he was beaten fair and square at Doncaster last time off a 3lb lower mark, albeit he ran another solid race.
If you like Cap Du Nord, then you have to give a second glance to front-running Mellow Ben, who did not finish far behind him in that Newbury event and is now 16lb better off. He subsequently failed to reproduce that running here last time, but he was ridden too aggressively and, unusually, also jumped out to his left.
He's quoted at 16-1 but I’m going to let him slide for the time being because, at this stage, there are several others in the line-up who like to get on with things.
Instead, I will have a small saver on Al Dancer, a second-season chaser who represents Team Twiston-Davies and, like Clondaw Castle, is interesting moving up in trip.
The majority of his form stands close inspection, including his near-miss in the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his penultimate start, and he has the right kind of profile. You do have to forgive him a lamentable run at Cheltenham last time but he has since been off 11 weeks but that was too bad to be true and his record fresh is encouraging.
Last year's first and second, Mister Malarkey and Black Corton, could also line-up. The former is usually more miss than hit, while the latter has yet to spark this term and is not easy to place.
How To Bet £20 on the Close Brothers Handicap Chase
£14 win on Clondaw Castle at 8-1 with bet365 and William Hill
£3 each-way on Al Dancer at 8-1 with William Hill
Previous ante-post selections
£17 win on Notachance at 11-2 with William Hill - WON
£3 win on Achille at 14-1 with Sky Bet and bet365 - 2nd
Bets void - race at Cheltenham abandoned
£5 win and £5 each-way on Lord Du Mesnil at a general 12-1 (quarter the odds) WON
£2.50 each-way on Sojourn at 15-2 with Betfair and Paddy Power (quarter the odds) LOSTFancy winning a 50" television, a 12-month Racing TV subscription, a Reclining Armchair plus much more? Click here to enter our Ultimate Cheltenham At Home competition!
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