Wyck Hill can upset odds to grab Grand prize
Jim Dreaper and Andrew Lynch have a serious chance of securing their second triumph together in the Coral Welsh National with Goonyella at Chepstow this afternoon.
Notre Pere's famous 2008 coup remains the only Irish-trained winner of the marathon event, and Goonyella looks tailor-made for the three-mile-five-furlong feature. A decent point-to-point and hunter chaser, the Presenting six-year-old's saddle slipped on his handicap bow in the Irish Grand National, but he confirmed his potential as a cracking staying prospect when carrying a light weight to victory over a trip similar to today's at Punchestown in April.
On his reappearance, he finished an encouraging second over an inadequate two miles and six furlongs at Galway, and then performed with plenty of credit when stepped up in class for the Troytown Chase at Navan. A one-paced fifth in the end there, Goonyella gets in here off a 2lb higher mark of 138 for 10st 1lb, which is fair for such an unexposed individual.
All told, he is just 11lb higher than when winning at Punchestown. With conditions to suit, then, he appeals as being a rock-solid each-way option, although he is now short enough at 8/1 for such a competitive 20-runner handicap.
The suspicion is that there is plenty of value to be found elsewhere, and the one that appeals as being vastly overpriced is David Bridgewater's Wyck Hill. When JP McManus bought the nine-year-old in the new year, he had won four of his first six starts over fences, latterly seeing off Katenko in a gruelling heavy-ground affair at Ascot.
Katenko went on to frank that form with two successive wins, the second a runaway success off an 11lb higher rating. Wyck Hill, however, subsequently failed to progress as expected.
He didn't act on the fast track in a valuable handicap at Kempton in February and returned injured to boot, but his third over three miles in deep ground at Punchestown in April off 141 was more encouraging.
While little went right for him on his reappearance at Ascot in November, his turn in the Becher Chase at Aintree three weeks ago really caught the eye. Despite getting outpaced again on the flat Liverpool track at around halfway, he kept responding. In the end, he finished ninth, beaten 22 lengths, but that doesn't do the effort justice, as he ran on with purpose at the end of the three-and-a-quarter-mile journey despite being off the bridle for an awfully long way.
Today, Wyck Hill will relish the extreme distance and the bottomless ground, and he has the assistance of the excellent Tom O'Brien. With just 10st 3lb to carry, the partnership is fancied to defy odds of 25/1 to secure the Wexford-born rider his second win in the race.
Another McManus runner that might be underestimated by the layers is Captain Cutter in the Grade One Challow Novices' Hurdle at Newbury. Nicky Henderson's six-year-old had some smart bumper form last term, winning on his Ascot debut before finishing third to Red Sherlock and then signing off with a second to Turnandgo at Punchestown.
He has won both his hurdle starts this term, though some viewers were less than impressed that he had to be pushed out to land odds of 1/7 on decent ground at Market Rasen last time. To these eyes, though, he was guilty of little more than idling against inferior opposition.
Sons of Westerner can be like that, and he actually won quite snugly, so odds of 8/1 look too big now that he steps up to three miles on heavy ground that suits him well. Needless to say, the likes of Creepy, Oscar Rock and Shantou Magic are the best opposition that he has come up against, but Captain Cutter has bundles of scope for improvement.
In the subsequent novices' chase, Harry Fry's highly-regarded Vukovar warrants a second chance despite getting caught on his chasing bow at Warwick. On his first start since June that day, the handsome four-year-old had to make all his own running on his fencing bow, and lost little in getting collared by the more experienced and race-fit Mr Mole.
Best bet: Vukovar
There are some decent entries at Punchestown on Tuesday and Fairyhouse on Wednesday, but one that would be especially interesting -- if he turns up in a beginners' chase at either venue -- is the Colm Murphy-trained Marlbrook. A gorgeous son of Beneficial, the JP McManus-owned five-year-old has run just three times in his life.
He won his point-to-point at Nenagh in January, ran away with a Gowran Park bumper in March, and then finished third to Champagne Fever on his fencing bow at Punchestown last month. That was a tremendous performance for such an inexperienced horse, as he fenced brilliantly and travelled smoothly before eventually tiring in the straight. Marlbrook might well be the horse to take Murphy back into the big time.