Unexposed Topofthegame aims to give Nicholls fourth win
32Red Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle (Listed) | 2m5f | 4yo+ | ITV4/RUK
The 32Red Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle has been won by some smart types in recent years, notably Modus last term, and today punters will have to choose between 16 runners in a bid to find the winner. Here’s what you need to know . . .
Has Paul Nicholls found the right formula?
Paul Nicholls has won this race three times in the last ten years – as well as training two horses to be placed – and the rangy Topofthegame returns to hurdles after one try over fences.
Nicholls took the prize last year with Modus who added to triumphs with Saphir Du Rheu (2014) and Nycteos (2008).
Six-year-olds, particularly those on an upward curve, have won five of the last ten runnings and if inexperience counts the Nicholls contender has had just four runs.
A winner of a maiden hurdle at Ascot, from Criq Rock, on his stable debut last season and fourth to Wholestone at Grade 2 level, he fell in a beginners' chase at Newbury on his only appearance this term.
The trainer's assistant Harry Derham said: "We hope that he is a bit unexposed. Things didn't go quite right for him at Newbury. We thought we would let him run back over hurdles. His form last year has worked out quite nicely and we would like to think he will run quite well."
The shorter the odds, the better the chance
This is not a race that delivers upsets as all of the last ten winners have returned at single-figure odds.
Because of the Lanzarote's competitiveness there should still be a quorum of qualifying candidates to be potential winners.
Nicky Henderson, who won the race with Oscar Dara in 2013, has two challengers and Diese Des Bieffes and William Henry head the betting.
He is also claiming off both horses with stable conditional James Bowen, fresh from his Welsh National victory, riding topweight William Henry. Mitchell Bastyan, another high flyer with Welsh connections, is due to partner Diese Des Bieffes.
William Henry was pulled up at Cheltenham behind Finian's Oscar on his first start over fences while Diese Des Bieffes, who has had only four runs, was second in a novice hurdle here over two miles at Christmas.
Henderson said: "William Henry didn't seem suited to going left-handed and he will probably go back over fences. He just needs a run over hurdles and two miles five going right-handed on the ground is right up his street. It's a pity the weights have gone up."
He added: "Diese Des Bieffes hasn't a lot of experience and he's a talented horse."
Where is the pace coming from?
Top Ville Ben made all the running to win a Haydock handicap hurdle by 29 lengths and trainer Phil Kirby warns to expect more of the same at Kempton.
The horse won over two furlongs further on more testing ground so jockey Adam Nicol will make every effort to make the most of his stamina.
Kirby was not surprised when he was raised 12lb by the handicapper but believes he is overpriced at odds of 20-1.
"I thought he was fairly impressive last time," he said. "Maybe softer ground and a touch further might have helped him last time but he couldn't do an awful lot more to deserve his chance in a race like this.
"I just hope he is competitive and then he can run in some nice races this season. I don't think there are too many that will want to take him on but he will be making it anyway."
What they say
Alan King, trainer of River Frost and Dino Velvet
He has been off since the Silver Trophy at Chepstow, where he ran creditably to finish close up in fifth. He probably needed that first run back, but his subsequent absence is not due to any problem, just the fact we haven’t been able to find the right race for him. He’s in good order and I think he’ll be very competitive. Dino Velvet has improved since we stepped him up in distance and ran much better at Newbury last time.
Harry Fry, trainer of Bags Groove
He’s earned his rating with two good wins, including over course and distance last time out, and he’s really well in himself at home. As long as the ground doesn’t get any slower, we think he can be very competitive again. Hopefully all goes well and then we can focus on stepping him up in trip for the Pertemps at Cheltenham.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of El Terremoto
He won well at Stratford first time out this season, before running a lesser race on heavy ground at Haydock. We’re hoping for better this time.
Fergal O'Brien, trainer of I Shot The Sheriff
He was running well at Newbury but then his shoe slipped off going to the third-last and the lost his action and he was pulled up. We would hope for a better run this time.
Ben Pauling, trainer of Red Indian
I always had this race in mind and after he ran well at Cheltenham but never really got into the race, it was very testing. It was two miles five for the first time and I wasn't sure he was going to see the trip out. He was ridden patiently, the winner wasn't sighted, and he ran a nice race.
Olly Murphy, trainer of Wishfull Dreaming
I was quite keen to contest a nice race first time out as his first run always looked to be his best. It's the most competitive race he's run in but he's been working well. He has a tongue-tie and steps up in trip and he has an each-way chance.
Dr Richard Newland, trainer of Le Patriote
We have had him about six weeks. He seems like a very nice horse. He should enjoy the ground. Whether he is good enough to compete at this level we will see and there is a little bit of doubt about the trip. We hope he will get it but we are not certain.
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