- Distance winner (2m) – 10 winners in 10 runnings
- Officially rated 130 to 143 – 10/10
- No more than 12 runs over fences – 10/10
- Aged nine or under – 9/10
- No more than four runs since August – 9/10
- Carried no more than 10st 11lb – 9/10
- Started no bigger than 8/1 – 8/10
TThat last stat is most encouraging for punters and, if we go back even further to 1982, all winners have been between 9/4 and 14/1, with the exception of a 33/1 winner and a pair of 20/1 winners, which makes this race a great getting-out stakes!
And whether this is a winning or losing festival might come down to the assorted representatives of the Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson teams. Both are well-represented here but the two to concentrate on are POQUELIN (6/1 Blue Square) and FRENCH OPERA (9/1 bet365), with slight preference for the latter at a bigger price.
Trained by Nicky Henderson, who will be especially keen to land the race named in honour of his late father, he’s shown some useful ability over fences, most notably when second to Arkle third Planet Of Sound at Newbury, and looks to have that ideal blend of pace and power often associated with Grand Annual winners.
Nicholls has clearly trained Poquelin with this race in mind and he has a nice racing weight of 10st 12lb, which is unusual for a Nicholls-trained handicapper at the festival. Most of them are aggressively campaigned and as a result are pretty exposed by the time they get here, but Poquelin has deliberately not run since finishing third at Ascot in November and will appreciate the return to racing left-handed on the track where he gained a gutsy win over some useful rivals in October. With Ruby Walsh in the saddle, he must go close and is worth a saver at the very least.
His stablemate Pasco (11/1 bet365) would have been the selection had the ground stayed soft, while another stablemate Andreas (20/1 William Hill) cannot be totally discounted, although he looks vulnerable off a 13lb higher mark than when winning here two years ago. Last year’s winner, Tiger Cry (11/1 Skybet), appears to have been targeted at this race again. As does the second and third, My Petra (11/1 Stan James) and Calagatan (28/1 Totesport). The latter can run off a 7lb lower mark this time and could well a big price
French Opera 2pts @ 9/1 bet365
Poquelin 1pt @ 6/1 Blue Square