Quinz to remain on upward curve
This afternoon's Racing Post Chase at Kempton has the makings of a thrilling showpiece Saturday handicap, with the two most recent winners of the race set to tackle 15 other hopefuls in a wide-open renewal.
Last year's hero Razor Royale, which has struggled to find his form since, is passed over by Paddy Brennan this time for Nacarat, the front-running grey that carried Tony McCoy to victory in 2009 before going down gamely by just a quarter of a length last year. Off a two-pound lower mark now, Nacarat certainly has a chance again.
This year, McCoy has opted for the bookies' favourite Fistral Beach. An early casualty when also sent off the market leader for this in 2010, Paul Nicholls' representative's sole start this term resulted in a triumph at Wincanton last month.
While Fistral Beach isn't easily passed over, that he has gone up 15lbs for one win in his last three outings is off-putting. At a best-priced 11/2, he offers little value.
I prefer Quinz, Philip Hobbs' progressive seven-year-old. A facile winner over hurdles at the track last March, the son of Glenview Stud's prolific sire Robin Des Champs has been a revelation since being switched back to chasing this season.
When he reappeared in October he cantered up in a beginners' event at Exeter, before impressively drawing clear off a mark of 130 at Ascot a month later. On his only subsequent outing in December, Quinz put in another fine performance to be third to the smart Time For Rupert and Chicago Grey in a novices' event at Cheltenham.
Although ultimately beaten 17 lengths that day, he was right there on the run to the last, before Richard Johnson eased up on him once his fate was sealed.
That was a fair effort behind two graded-class horses, and the return to a flat, right-handed track now will suit the selection, which can be backed at up to 7/1. While Quinz is a stone higher than when he won at Ascot, his improving profile suggests he is good value for that and he gets in off a reasonable 11st here.
It is also worth noting that Hobbs, who also saddles Mostly Bob, has kept his powder dry for this race, one that he and Johnson have already won three and four times respectively.
In the preceding Grade Two novice chase, Hobbs and Johnson should also collect with Captain Chris. A runner-up on each of his three starts over fences so far, this looks by far the easiest assignment that Captain Chris has been set of late.
On his seasonal debut over flights, he began with a second behind Silviniaco Conti, before then running well in defeat behind Ghizao, twice, and the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy favourite Medermit on being switched to fences.
American Trilogy may be Captain Chris's biggest threat but, on the basis of his previous effort against Medermit at Plumpton in December, he won't have the selection's class.
Also at Kempton, Cruchain gets the nod in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase. A winner over hurdles for Jonjo O'Neill in October, Cruchain switched to Dai Burchell's care soon after and ran an absolute blinder when third to Polyfast, which runs in the day's feature, over course and distance for his new stable last month.
He has been put up three pounds for that, but that mark still compares favourably with his hurdle rating of 118. What's more, given that Cruchain gave four pounds and an 18-length beating to today's favourite Forget It when they met over hurdles in October, he looks an even better proposition off 13lb better terms with that one now.
Up at Newcastle, Giles Cross appeals in the Totesport.com Eider Chase. Lightly raced for a nine-year-old with just 12 starts, Victor Dartnall's charge left a poor comeback run behind him to finish second to Synchronised in the Welsh National.
He will need to defy a career-high 136 to score here, but could well do so in a weak renewal.
Best bet: Captain Chris