Mud-loving Harry can be a Topper
The Argento Chase is a long way removed from the crucial Gold Cup trial of old, but this afternoon’s renewal at Chelten-ham is still an interesting race in its own right.
Exotic Dancer did chase Kauto Star home in the March showpiece after running away with the Grade Two in 2007, but you have to go back to 2000 to find the last winner to achieve glory in the main event.
On that occasion, Norman Williamson excelled on Looks Like Trouble, before then being inexplicably jocked off in March.
One of the most exquisite big-race riders during a vintage era for jump jockeys, Williamson had previously steered Master Oats to victory in what was then the Pillar Chase and the 1995 Gold Cup hero’s trainer Kim Bailey returns now with a similar mud-lark.
Harry Topper may not be improving at the rate of knots that Master Oats did that famous season, but he is, nonetheless, a fine prospect on soft ground here.
On conditions that were only barely soft enough for him at Wetherby on
his reappearance, he got up on the line to deny Wayward Prince in the Charlie Hall Chase, with Unioniste third and Benefficient and Long Run well behind.
Given the promise of that, his defeat to Vino Griego in a three-horse race at Sandown was disappointing, but the ground there was far too quick and his jumping fell to bits.
If you forgive Harry Topper that one setback, he is the single most interesting horse in this extended three-miler, with significant verdicts over a number of today’s rivals last term.
The Sir Harry Lewis seven-year-old toppled Rocky Creek on his chasing bow at Exeter and then saw off
Benefficient, Highland Lodge and Houblon Des Obeaux in a decent race at Newbury, albeit off favourable weights as a five-year-old.
On his next start, he gave 3lb and a 12-length beating to Hawkes Point, which failed by just a head to land the Welsh National off a mark of 137 at Christmas.
Harry Topper was desperately unlucky to unseat and be brought down on his final two starts, but he remains a horse with a hugely progressive profile on testing ground.
Given his current mark of 153, Harry Lewis has plenty to do conceding weight to higher-rated rivals.
Nonetheless, he is open to further improvement.
Whether he could yet be a Gold Cup contender if the ground came up testing in March, is a whole other discussion, but Bailey knows how to train a horse of his potential when he gets one.
Moreover, Jason Maguire knows how to ride them, so odds of around 7/1 are too big.
Of the rest, Houblon Des Obeaux and Rocky Creek are the obvious threats in receipt of weight, with the Hennessy second Rocky Creek the least exposed of that duo.
Ruby Walsh isn’t going to try to get
to Prestbury Park in time to ride Boston Bob in the Cleeve Hurdle after riding Annie Power at Doncaster.
With conditions as they are, Boston Bob could have a say for Barry Geraghty, and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that Big Buck’s will prove vulnerable on his return from 420 days off.
However, if he does, it is Reve De Sivola that appeals as being best-equipped to take advantage.
Boston Bob has come unstuck in two previous visits to the Cotswolds, but Reve De Sivola denied Oscar Whisky in this last year and thrives in deep ground.
Nick Williams’ five-time Grade One winner likes to dominate and Richard Johnson is sure to make this a proper test on him, so 7/2 looks a fair offering.
Geraghty might just be worth a speculative foray aboard Mullins’ Rathvinden against Red Sherlock, while Charles Byrnes’ Arnaud is also of interest in the novice chase at Doncaster.
Rock On Ruby won a non-event on his fencing bow, but at no point was Noel Fehily, who clocked a deserved first century yesterday, eager to ask much of him.
He lacks scope, and Arnaud has it within his locker to exploit that for Paddy Brennan.
Best Bet: Reve De Sivola