Mister Whitaker and Brian Hughes after winning the Close Brothers; Novices’ Handicap Chase
Image supplied by Tattersalls Ireland

Cheltenham Festival scorer Mister Whitaker is among 37 excellent entries, revealed today, for the Listed Sky Bet Chase (3.15pm) at Doncaster on Saturday, January 26th.

The prestigious three-mile handicap, with record prize money of £100,000 in 2019, headlines a quality seven-race programme which also has three Grade Two contests and the Sky Bet Extra Place Races Handicap Chase (3.50pm).

Mister Whitaker, trained by Mick Channon in West Ilsley, Berkshire, improved dramatically over fences last season and ended the campaign with a thrilling head victory in the Listed Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The seven-year-old has run twice so far this season, following up his decisive victory in the Listed Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle with a creditable fourth in the competitive BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham 13 days later.

Mister Whitaker, who has yet to race beyond two miles and five furlongs and is entered at Kempton Park this weekend is entered alongside Ladbrokes Trophy third Dingo Dollar, whose trainer Alan King captured back-to-back renewals of the Sky Bet Chase with Ziga Boy (2016 & 2017).

Last year’s winner Wakanda, trained by Sue Smith in West Yorkshire, has the chance to emulate Ziga Boy, who is the only multiple winner of the Sky Bet Chase.

Somerset handler Paul Nicholls has six entries to choose from, the most of any trainer, as he chases a third Sky Bet Chase victory. The Nicholls sextet is headed by lightly-raced nine-year-old Give Me A Copper, who has not been seen out since capturing a novices’ chase in November, 2017 and is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson and TV presenter Jeremy Kyle, recent Kempton Park scorer Adrien Du Pont and last year’s runner-up Warrriors Tale.

Nicky Henderson and Nigel Twiston-Davies are both represented in the 2019 Sky Bet Chase. Henderson, whose stables are north of Lambourn, has entered Gold Present and recent course and distance scorer O O Seven, while Gloucestershire-based Twiston-Davies’ three entries include Go Conquer and Ballykan.

Brian Boranha had his the Sky Bet Chase bid decided following a nine-length victory in the Durham National over three miles and five furlongs at Sedgefield in October.

The progressive eight-year-old also has form over shorter trips, having won a three-mile handicap chase at Southwell in May.

Malton trainer Peter Niven, who won the Sky Bet Chase as a jockey on Dalkey Sound (1991) and Carbisdale (1994), revealed: “Brian Boranha is grand.

“He is a better ground horse so I have been saving him for a race like the Sky Bet Chase – it is a race I loved when I was riding.

“Brian Boranha is a nice type of horse and hopefully he is up to this sort of grade.

“He won over further last time, but I don’t think the drop back in trip will be a problem at a track like Doncaster. They generally go a nice gallop and it tends to sort them out up the straight, which will suit him.

“His long-term target is the Scottish Grand National and if he could run well in the Sky Bet Chase beforehand, I would be delighted.”

Willie Boy has been entered following an impressive 11-length victory in a handicap chase over just shy of two and a half miles at Wetherby.

His handler Charlie Longsdon, based in Gloucestershire, said: “I was delighted with Willie Boy’s win at Wetherby on Boxing Day.

“Everything suggests that he should be able to get three miles as he is a big, galloping sort.

“All being well, the Sky Bet Chase is where we would like to go with him.”

Other notable entries include likely top-weight Minella Rocco (Jonjo O’Neill), who was runner-up behind Sizing John in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup, and BetVictor Gold Cup third Guitar Pete (Nicky Richards).

Weights for the Sky Bet Chase will be revealed on Wednesday, January 16th.

Russell Smith, Executive Director of Doncaster Racecourse, declared: “We have increased the prize fund of our feature jump race, the Sky Bet Chase, by £20,000.

“This is a significant investment that demonstrates our commitment to the race. The Sky Bet Chase is now as valuable as any other Jump race in Yorkshire with a total prize of £100,000.”

Michael Shinners of Sky Bet said: “The Sky Bet Chase is the oldest race in Sky Bet’s sponsorship portfolio, with Sky Bet first supporting it in 2003.

“The race carries record prize money this year of £100,000, up from £80,000 in 2018, and we have been rewarded with 37 excellent entries.”

Doncaster also races on Friday, January 25th and Sky Bet supports all seven races including the £30,000 Sky Bet Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Chase (1.55pm) over an extended two miles and the £20,000 Listed Sky Bet Top Price Promise Fillies’ Juvenile Hurdle (2.30pm) over a similar trip.