On Boxing Day, Wetherby stages one of the highlights of its jumps season, the Grade 3 188bet Rowland Meyrick Handicap Chase over three miles.
Last season’s Grade 1 RSA Chase winner Blaklion is an interesting runner here. The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained 7 year old took time to find his form over fences, winning on his third outing last December at Cheltenham, having fallen there the previous month. He came to prominence with an 8 lengths victory over Definitly Red in the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby in early February. The following month he put up a superb performance to win the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, beating Shaneshill by ½ a length with a gutsy display. In April he was arguably a little over the top when running 6 ¾ lengths third of 8 behind Native River in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree. He returned to action in the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in late October, running well for a long way before fading late on to finish 8 ¼ lengths fourth of 7 to Irish Cavalier. He again ran well in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in late November, finishing 7 ¾ lengths fifth of 19 behind Native River.
For the second year running Seventh Sky ran a cracker in the Grand Sefton over the Grand National fences in December. The Charlie Mann trained 9 year old won five times in his novice season and in early December 2015, he put up a terrific performance when 9 lengths second of 13 to Bennys Mist in the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase over the Grand National fences. A couple of weeks later he put up a really gutsy performance at Haydock Park, to win the Tommy Whittle Chase by 7 lengths from Spookydooky off top weight in heavy ground. His next start came in a competitive Grade 3 handicap chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, when he ran a respectable 23 lengths fifth of 11 to the improving Village Vic. In late January he ran a respectable race when 27 lengths fourth of 12 to Cloudy Too in the Peter Marsh Chase back at Haydock Park. He was less encouraging though, as he disappointed at Sandown Park, finishing 49 lengths 7th of 8 to Le Reve in early February and pulled up in Doncaster’s Grimthorpe Chase in early March. He ran much better at Cheltenham in mid-April when finishing 16 ½ lengths fourth of 8 to Perfect Candidate. A few days later he was a well beaten 13th of 20 to The Young Master in the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park. He returned to action in a Bangor handicap chase in early November, running a belter to finish 1 ¼ lengths second of 13 to Valadom. Then in early December he returned to Aintree and ran a cracker in the latest renewal of the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase, finishing 24 lengths fourth of 17 to As De Mee after racing prominently throughout off top weight.
Yala Enki recorded a unique double in 2016 when winning both the Lanzarote Hurdle and the Tommy Whittle Chase. The Venetia Williams trained 6 year old gained plenty of chase experience in his native France and proved a useful novice hurdler last season, winning three times over timber. He made a sensational chasing debut in the UK in December when emerging from the Haydock Park fog to win the Tommy Whittle off a big weight, by 8 lengths from Vieux Lille.
Sue Smith enjoyed plenty of success in staying handicap chases last season, with Wakanda’s pre-Christmas Ascot victory a notable highlight. The 7 year old Wakanda has a hugely progressive profile at present and has won all three starts to date this season. He beat Fago by 4 ½ lengths at Wetherby in late October and added the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle a month later, beating Virak by ½ a length. That rival was again in competition in the Listed Sodexo Silver Cup Handicap Chase at Ascot in December, but Wakanda again came out on top, beating Virak by a length. He then stepped up in class for the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in late January, but struggled and eventually pulled up. He was not seen out again until early April, when he had a crack at Grade 1 competition in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree, but was pulled up behind Cue Card. He returned to action in the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in late October, running a tailed off last of 7 to Irish Cavalier. The following month he showed a little improvement when 23 lengths fifth of 9 behind Otago Trail in the Listed Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. He would command plenty of respect if returning to his best form.
Henri Parry Morgan comes into this race in good form but is still light on experience over fences. The Peter Bowen trained 8 year old was a distant last of 5 to Blameitalonmyroots at Bangor in November and a month later unseated his rider at Newbury. He then had a break and returned at Chepstow in a novices’ handicap chase in late February, beating Bears Rails by 10 lengths. He skipped Cheltenham and instead headed to Uttoxeter the following Saturday, beating Delgany Demon by an emphatic 15 lengths in a valuable novices’ handicap chase. He then ran a screamer in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree in early April, finishing 3 lengths second of 8 to Native River. Later that month he took on seasoned chasers in the Grade 3 Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown Park, but unseated his rider. He returned to action in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in late November, but faded late on to finish 27 lengths 11th of 19 behind Native River.
Definitly Red was a talented novice hurdler, winning a Grade 2 contest two seasons ago, before enjoying a fine first season over fences last term. The Brian Ellison trained 7 year old won a Catterick novice chase on New Year’s Day and was then 2 ¾ lengths second to the smart Grade 1 winner Black Hercules, in a Listed novice chase at Warwick in January. The following month he ran well again when 8 lengths second of 6 to Blaklion in the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby, but he was a faller in the National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March. In mid-April he won a valuable Listed novices’ handicap chase at Ayr by a length from Orbasa. Definitly Red returned to action with a victory in a handicap hurdle at Carlisle in late October and then ran well a month later in Newcastle’s Listed Rehearsal Chase, finishing 4 ½ lengths third of 9 to Otago Trail.
Our Kaempfer was a very useful handicap hurdler and ran well at the Cheltenham Festival last March when finishing 3 lengths fifth of 24 to Mall Dini in the Pertemps Network Final. The Charlie Longsdon trained 7 year old made a promising debut over fences when finishing 2 lengths second of 6 to the exciting Rock The Kasbah at Chepstow in early October. A month later he was beaten 6 lengths by Bigbadjohn in a match race at Newbury. Later in November he headed to Newbury for a Grade 2 novice chase, coming home 14 lengths third of 5 to the smart Clan Des Obeaux. He now takes on far more experienced chasers.
Ballyculla proved a very useful hurdler and ran a succession of solid races without winning over fences two seasons ago. The Warren Greatrex trained 9 year old finished 20 lengths 7th of 20 to Cause Of Causes in the 4-mile National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival last March and was not disgraced when running 19 lengths fifth of 19 to Gallant Oscar at the Punchestown Festival in the spring. He returned to action at Bangor in December and got off the mark over fences with a 2 lengths defeat of Take The Mick. He was a faller in the Eider Chase at Newcastle in late February but bounced back at Wetherby the following month to beat Chase The Wind by 10 lengths in a novice chase. He was last seen pulling up in the Scottish Grand National at Ayr in April.
The former Noel Meade inmate Silver Tassie has not won since September 2014, but was in decent form in the spring. Now in the care of Micky Hammond, the 8 year old failed to finish in two starts in January, but was then 2 ¼ lengths second of 6 to No Planning in an Ayr handicap chase in March. A month later he got even closer when 1 ¾ lengths second of 5 to Un Noble at Newcastle, before running 3 ½ lengths third of 8 to No Duffer at Perth. He has been unplaced and well beaten on two starts this autumn, most recently finishing 13 lengths 6th of 11 to No Duffer at Doncaster, earlier in December.
The mare Actinpieces proved a useful hurdler last season and has taken to fences reasonably well this term, although she now takes on a different level of experience and competition. The Pam Sly trained 5 year old unseated on her chasing debut at Wetherby in October, before finishing 21 lengths last of 6 behind Desert Queen in a Listed mares chase at Market Rasen, in early November. She got off the mark with an impressive 9 lengths defeat of the useful Zeroeshadesofgrey in another Wetherby novice chase in late November but will need to raise her game again here.