The last month of National Hunt racing has arguably been much more miss than hit in terms of exciting spectacles, but that promises to change for the better this weekend.
There is very strong racing to look forward to at Newbury, Newcastle and Fairyhouse, so let’s hope it delivers and gives the jumps scene a much-needed shake.
My first port of call on Saturday will be at Newcastle for the Betfair Exchange Rehearsal Handicap Chase (14:05). This is a deeply-competitive contest and the one I’m inclined to take a chance on is the Alan King-trained Notachance.
The seven-year-old found good progression in the first half of last season, winning a handicap chase at Bangor and the Classic Chase at Warwick. However, he finished it on a low note by being pulled up twice in valuable handicap chases at Haydock and Ayr.
The thought with regard to his chance in this contest is that he has tended to produce big performances when fresh in the past and his trainer is likely to have identified that.
That he is running him in a race this competitive on his return suggests that he has him plenty fit for his comeback. It wouldn’t surprise if he can resume his progression by running a big race in this.
Over at Newbury on Saturday, the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase (15:00) is always one of the most competitive handicap chases of the entire National Hunt season.
Historically, it is a race that can prove to be a stepping stone for a progressive young chaser up to the very top table. Indeed, on two occasions in the last decade the winner of this race has gone on to win the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.
If there is a top-class staying chaser hiding in handicapper’s clothing in this field, I suspect it might be the Henry De Bromhead-trained Eklat De Rire and he is my selection.
The seven-year-old is the most lightly-raced runner in this field having only had six lifetime starts on the racecourse, with four of them coming over fences. However, he has won all three of his completed starts in chases, most notably beating the smart Escaria Ten in a Grade 3 novice chase at Naas in January and making an impressive winning return in a Listed chase at Wexford last month.
In between those wins he was jumping and travelling well in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival only for Rachael Blackmore to be unseated from him following an awkward nod on landing at the 12th fence.
The main concern many are likely to have with Eklat De Rire is his lack of experience, particularly in a big-field highly-competitive environment such as this. However, I strongly feel that experience is a variable that we consistently overrate in National Hunt racing. In fact, one of the main reasons I like the chances of Eklat De Rire is that I feel the higher-pressure environment of a race such as this will suit him notably better than the small-field contests he has been contesting over fences to date.
Eklat De Rire is a particularly good jumper of a fence that exhibits a great amount of scope. Having more pace in front of him will allow him to use that scope and athleticism without having to be reined back as he has been throughout his chasing career thus far.
This sort of race promises to allow him to show exactly what he can do, which I suspect will be better than anything he has been able to show on the track so far. I think he has a big chance.
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