Betfair Exchange Chase (aka Game Spirit Chase) 15.00 Newbury
2m 92 yards (Grade 2) (CLASS 1) (5yo+)
This Saturday the ITV4 cameras will be at Newbury for the Game Spirit Chase. Only five go to post in search of this valuable pot, but it is a high calibre field. This race has proved to be a happy hunting ground for favourite backers down through the years, with 4 of the last 7 jollies obliging.
There has been no winner priced bigger than 4/1 since 2007, so it pays to stick with the more fancied horses. Some very classy animals have tasted success in this race down through the years, including Sprinter Sacre and Master Minded. They both went on to win the Champion Chase at Cheltenham and Altior will be hoping to repeat the trick in 2017.
Colin Tizzard/Aidan Coleman
Odds: 3/1 Betfred
Colin Tizzard holds a strong hand heading to Cheltenham this season thanks to the arrival of some high class recruits owned by Ann and Alan Potts. Fox Norton was picked up by current connections for an undisclosed sum back in November and, on the evidence of his first run for his new owners, he looks a shrewd acquisition. He beat a good yardstick in Simply Ned by 9L at Cheltenham last time and he has never been out of the first three since going chasing in May 2015.
He has had 10 starts over the larger obstacles, and the 7yo son of Lando has won half of those. He was a Grade 2 winning hurdler, and he picked up his first Grade 2 over fences last time. That win has earned him an official rating of 167, but he has to carry a penalty and concede weight to his rivals. He is facing a hugely promising horse in Altior, and he could struggle to give him 5lbs and win on Saturday. Odds of 3/1 look fair and he won’t be far away at the finish.
Nicky Henderson/Nico De Boinville
Odds: 4/7 Ladbrokes
Nicky Henderson has trained some of the very best 2 mile chasers down through the years, possibly none better than the enigmatically brilliant Sprinter Sacre. He has another good one in Altior, a 7yo son of High Chapparal, who will be looking to complete an 8 timer on Saturday. He is unbeaten since October 2015 over both hurdles and fences, and he is already a dual Grade 1 winner in both codes.
He made a couple of mistakes on his first two chase starts, including in the Grade 1 Henry VIII at Sandown, but they were only minor errors and he still won doing handstands on both occasions. He put in an exemplary round of jumping at Kempton in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad last time, but he is facing better horses on Saturday. However, small fields suit him and if he puts his best foot forward he could have too much speed for his rivals. He is a worthy favourite at 4/7 with Ladbrokes and he could go off even shorter.
Paul Nicholls/Nick Schofield
Odds: 25/1 Bet365
What a disappointment this horse has become in recent times. The 2015 Champion Chase hero is a triple Grade 1 winner over fences, but his recent runs have been woeful. He hasn’t looked like regaining any of that old spark and it would take a huge leap of faith to back him on Saturday.
He was beaten out of sight last time in the Clarence House and he has yet to finish within 10L of the winner since his festival win in 2015. He is still only a 9yo, so it is possible that Nicholls could coax him back to his best, but until he shows more you couldn’t back him, even at odds of 25/1 with Bet365.
Kerry Lee/Paul Townend
Odds: 50/1 Skybet
There are few trainers in better form than Kerry Lee but, even so, it is hard to see Gino Trail having the pace to hang onto the best of these. This relatively lightly raced 10yo son of Perugino is having his first start in Graded company and with an official rating of just 146 he has a massive amount to find with the principals.
He won 2 of his first 3 starts back this season, including an impressive handicap win at Haydock off 134. However, he came unstuck in Novices’ Chases the last twice and on that level of form it is impossible to see how he can win this, barring accidents. His odds of 50/1 with Skybet look justified and minor money is the best that his connections can hope for.
Gary Moore/Jamie Moore
Odds: 7/1 Paddy Power
This 7yo son of Astarabad is a potential fly in the ointment in this race and he has some strong form in the book. He was 3rd in a couple of Grade 1s on his last 2 starts and he got to within 5L of superstar chaser Un De Sceaux last time out at Ascot. He is a 7/1 shot with Paddy Power, third best behind the market leaders.
The big worry with this fella is the length of time he has been off the track. This is a very hot race to be making your seasonal reappearance in and the odds are that he will need this run to put him straight. With an official rating of 160 he is entitled to be in the shake up but, given that he has evidently had his problems and that it is his first run in over a year, he is best watched this time.
Unless Traffic Fluide returns in tip-top shape, this looks like a match between Fox Norton and Altior. While the Tizzard horse has undoubtedly been impressive on his last couple of starts, so has the Henderson horse and he was a superior hurdler too.
He put in a spectacular round of jumping last time at Kempton and if he is as good over his fences here, it is hard to see him losing. The fact he is getting 5lb from his main rival is another huge plus for Altior and he can win here before heading for Cheltenham and potential Champion Chase glory in March.
VERDICT: 1. ALTIOR 2. FOX NORTON 3.TRAFFIC FLUIDE