The highlight of the National Hunt Season at Warwick, the Classic Chase is one of the top Handicap chases in the middle of winter and has thrown up several top-class winners, most notably 2017 Grand National hero One For Arthur. The declarations for this race are strong and on paper at least, this looks to be an above average renewal, with several potential improvers in the lineup who could be capable of taking the step out of handicap company and into graded races in time.
Last Year’s Winner
The obvious place to start is with the 2021 winner of this race, NOTACHANCE. Alan King has won this race 3 times and lined up Notachance perfectly to win this race 12-months ago. He has pulled up on 3 of his 4 starts since, but he has dropped back to a mark of 139 as a result, the same mark he had when winning this race last year. There were some signs of encouragement in his 6th placed finish at Haydock before Christmas, but he will need to improve as this years’ race looks much deeper and on balance, he is probably worth opposing against some less exposed rivals.
Several of the leading contenders for this race arrive here in winning form, most notably CORACH RAMBLER, who won at Cheltenham last month. Lucinda Russell knows how to win this race and could repeat the feat that One For Arthur achieved 5-years ago with Corach Rambler. He has won 3 of his last 4 starts and produced a career best last time when winning at the International Meeting last month. An 8lb rise for that victory is certainly going to test him and a mark of 142 is no gift, but after just 3 starts over fences he is far from exposed. A big weight is an obvious concern, 7 of the last 10 winners of this race carried 11-02 or less and only 1 of the last 10 winners carried the top weight, so this will be a big ask.
BIG RIVER and HEAD TO THE STARS also arrive here as last time out winners. They’re both experienced horses who have been running in staying handicap chases for a long time, but the former has always had jumping issues and that probably won’t suit at Warwick, where the 5 fences in the back straight represent a significant test. Whilst the latter has never won above Class 3 company and will probably find this race a little too hot. That fact is also true when considering MINELLA ENCORE, though he is less exposed after just 7 starts over fences. He won with a lot in hand at Leicester last month, winning by 18 months. Dr Richard Newland stated after the race that the application of the blinkers had been the cause for the improvement, so it will be interesting to see if he can repeat the effort on the back of a 9lb rise in the weights.
The Champion Trainer
We couldn’t let a big Saturday handicap go by without looking at the entry from the Champion trainer Paul Nicholls. He has won this race 3 times in the past and will be represented by GRACE A VOUS ENKI. It is fair to say that this horse has struggled since moving from France and an opening UK mark of 131 seems harsh based on his French form. He fell at the 3rd flight when he was a short-priced favourite for a Novice hurdle at Hereford in November, so it is best to put a line through that run, but he still looks up against it in this company.
The Local Trainer
Dan Skelton does exceptionally well at his local track, with a 28% strike rate in Chases here and he will be represented by Padleyourowncanoe. He is now rated 135, 5lbs lower than for his last win over fences in October 2019 when he was trained by Colin Tizzard. He returned from a 452-day break when he finished 3rd behind Jesuitique at Haydock last month and if he can build on that effort he would be of interest here. Harry Skelton takes over the ride, which will be his first try at an extreme trip, but he looks to have stamina in abundance and could be the ideal type for this race.
Others to Note
This race is effectively a 0-142 handicap and so it is likely to be a compressed field, which could bring in any number of horses into consideration. Venetia Williams runs ACHILLE, who finished 2nd in this race last year and is only 4lbs higher this time around. He is a 12-year-old now but has missed a lot of time so doesn’t have as many miles on the clock as his age might suggest. He has won 5 of his 28 starts and will no doubt run his race, but he is surely vulnerable for win purposes against some improving rivals.
David Pipe is represented by GERICAULT ROQUE, who is the least exposed runner in the field. He has yet to win over fences but has made the frame on all 3 chase starts and ran perfectly well at Newbury 2-weeks ago. The stats are against him, there hasn’t been a 6-year-old winner of this since 1981 and he lacks experience, but he could be anything and is the big unknown in the race.
There are plenty of old favourites we could mention, THE HOLLOW GINGE, JERRYSBACK, CHIRICO VALLIS and CAPTAIN TOMMY. All have had plenty of runs in races of this nature and have bits and pieces of form that would see them go close. However, the handicapper knows everything about them at this stage and there look to be a few better treated in this field.
It will be no surprise if either Corach Rambler is able to outclass this field, but he will have a big weight to carry and a rise in the weights to overcome, so instead an each-way bet on PADLEYOUROWNCANOE looks a better play. This looks like a careful piece of race planning from Dan Skelton and he is certainly very well treated, if he can step up on last month’s comeback, he could go close.