Not for the first time in recent years, the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase lacks the presence of a superstar, a reality evidenced by Ballyoptic being the top weight for today’s Newbury showpiece.
Likeable though he is, he’s no Denman, Burrough Hill Lad, or Arkle, legends of the game who defied welter burdens to win a race better known as the Hennessy Gold Cup.
That illustrious trio were also Gold Cup winners but it’s hard to see any of the 18 runners in today’s line-up playing a meaningful role in Cheltenham’s blue riband next March.
That said, the Kim Bailey-trained Vinndication would have to enter the conversation if he manages to defy 11-11 today. A leading market fancy, he’s a likeable type but he couldn’t win the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival off a mark of 159 so it’s hard tobe convinced he’s Gold Cup class. There’s also a sense that he’s seen to best effect on right-handed tracks, a feeling that grew with some less than sure-footed jumping when schooling at Newbury last week.
In a race as open as this a case could be made for several but the eye is drawn to Vinndication’s stablemate Two For Gold, a horse who showed smart form as a novice chaser last season, winning at Carlisle and Kelso before getting the better of a decent type in Hold The Note in a Grade Two at Warwick.
Admittedly, he was no match for in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot on his final start last season but his earlier form shows that he’s a good deal better than that effort.
He made a perfectly satisfactory return to action at Wetherby last month when second behind a well handicapped rival over a trip short of his best, a run that should leave him spot-on for this assignment.
With the Bailey team in fine fettle, Two For Gold looks a big player off a mark of 148.
With the ground set to be good, Potterman also warrants each-way consideration.
Alan King’s charge was just touched off in Badger Beers Trophy at Wincanton earlier this month so he’s clearly in decent form and the fact all eight of his career successes have come on good ground bodes well for his prospects.
Odds as big as 20-1 underestimate the chances of a horse who would be 5lb higher if the handicapper could have taken his Wincanton effort into account.
Elsewhere at Newbury, the Nicky Henderson-trained Marie’s Rock can emulate stablemate and fellow mare Epatante by winning the Ladbrokes Committed To Safer Gambling Intermediate Hurdle before going on to better things
Epatante won this race last year but going on to land the Champion Hurdle in March. Marie’s Rock may never scale those dizzy heights but she’s a smart sort in her own right and should stretch her unbeaten record to four races today.
By then, the aforementioned Epatante should have enhanced her impressive CV by winning the Grade One Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
The presence of a race-fit and talented rival in Sceau Royal means this won’t be a penalty kick for Epatante on her seasonal reappearance but the expectation is her class will ultimately see her through.
Henderson can also strike in the Betfair Exchange Rehearsal Handicap Chase where Pym is fancied to build on on a successful reappearance at Sandown earlier this month.
Back at Newbury, the Tom Lacey-trained Tea Clipper can make it five wins from six career starts by landing the Get Your Ladbrokes £1 Free Bet Today Handicap Hurdle while Moonlighter can oblige for Nick Williams in the Watch Racing Free Online At Ladbrokes Handicap Chase.
Newbury 1.50: Tea Clipper (NB)
Newcastle 2.05: Epatante
Newbury 2.25: Marie’s Rock (Nap)
Newbury 3.00: Two For Gold
Newbury 3.00: Potterman (Each-way)
Newcastle 3.15: Pym
Newbury 3.35: Moonlighter