Ante-Post Preview #6 – 27/02/2019

2m4f Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed) – Tuesday 12th March 2019

The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase is run over two-and-a-half-miles and is limited to Novice Chasers rated 145 or below. This rating band changed from 0-140 last season, and in result we now have an extremely competitive handicap. Last season the bottom weight ran from a mark of 137, and this year we look set for another tightly matched field. Mister Whitaker won from that bottom weight in 2018, but the nature of the race means that the top weights won’t have as difficult a task as they may have in a traditional handicap – we could see as little as 5lbs between the field this year.

The handicap weights and Irish marks were released today, meaning we now know who is likely to be running. One selection I have had my eye on for this is Henry De Bromhead’s A Plus Tard. This five-year-old moved to County Waterford in October, having been purchased by the Cheveley Park Stud operation. This son of Kapgarde had been running in France before moving, and on his last start at Auteuil in April won a Listed Handicap Hurdle. The form of this race has worked out pretty well with the second, Cote De Grace, placing in a Grade 2 Chase on his next start. A Plus Tard made his Irish debut at Gowran Park in November in a Beginners Chase, where he finished a neck second to Dr Mikey – just unable to go past that rival on the run in. He showed a lot of improvement on his next start at Naas in December however, seeing off the hot-favourite Duc Des Genievres in good style. That rival has since boosted the form no end, bolting up at Gowran earlier in the month and getting a rating too high for this race in the process.

We last saw A Plus Tard at Punchestown in January, where he contested a Grade 3 Novice Chase over two-and-a-half miles. Sent off the 5/4 favourite (in part because he was getting a five-year-old weight allowance), Rachael Blackmore chased the leaders before improving into second from the third last. He travelled really well through the race to take a lead after the penultimate flight, but was swept away by Winter Escape (150) who ran out a very impressive winner. The pair were well clear of the rest however, and it was by far a disgrace being beaten in a decent contest. The British Handicapper has given our selection a rating of 144 for this Handicap, so he just sneaks into the race and I would fancy him to run well here under the fantastic Rachael Blackmore. The trip here will suit, and he seemingly acts on all types of ground.

A Plus Tard Each/Way @ 16/1

 

My second selection is another Horse I’ve had my eye on for a good mark, and that’s Tower Bridge. A star over Hurdles last season for Joseph O’Brien, this son of High Chaparral won the 2m6f Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival when sent off an unfancied 25/1 shot. He then showed that to be no fluke by running with credit at both Cheltenham – when fifth in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle behind Kilbricken Storm – and Aintree, when third to Santini in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle. With some top-class form in the book, you can imagine connections were expecting him to progress further over fences, however it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Beaten fourty-three lengths on Chase debut at Punchestown in November, Tower Bridge was given a pretty easy time of it when it became clear he wouldn’t be winning, and J J Slevin allowed the horse to fiddle his way over the fences. Back on the track at Leopardstown in December this JP McManus horse clearly learnt from his debut as he jumped a lot better, but again was never able to really get into the race. It’s worth noting he was badly hampered at the last that day when both Bacardys and Borderline Chatho fell, but was no match for Gun Digger or next time out Grade A winner Whisperinthebreeze.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge en route to Grade 1 victory at Leopardstown in February 2018.

Tower Bridge put in his best run over fences to date when last seen at Gowran Park however, eventually finishing second to Willie Mullins’ much improved Duc Des Genievres. That rival made all in a runaway win when scoring by fifteen-lengths, but it was Joseph O’Brien’s horse who was the real eye-catcher, pluckily staying on for second ahead of C’Est Jersey and Burrows Saint. Not only was his finishing position an improvement that day, but his jumping also drastically improved – looking much more like a natural. The softer ground that day clearly helped, with all his best form coming on Soft. It’s a good job he had been finishing so far behind his rivals on good ground however as he was awarded a rating of 141 for this contest by the British Handicapper, which will at least guarantee him a run. If continuing on the same line of progression as he has shown to date then this mark will look very fair, especially considering he is a Grade 1 Hurdles winner with a good Cheltenham Festival run under his belt. Clearly softer conditions will play to his strengths, and the forecast rain could help us considerably in the next couple of weeks.

Tower Bridge Each/Way @ 14/1

Note: Prices were tweeted out when tipped earlier today. Be sure to follow me @JakePriceTips!

Good luck! – Jake Price

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