Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (Grade 2) | 3m1½f | 5yo+ | ITV4/RTV
As well as offering a great example that high-class runners in handicaps need not deter competition, with a good-quality field of nine lining up to take on last year's winner Royale Pagaille, the Peter Marsh Chase highlights a couple of pertinent topics in the handicapping of British jump racing.
First is to note that the BHA handicappers have appeared to make good on their promise this season to expedite the dropping of exposed horses. Lake View Lad, now 12, has come down 9lb since his final run of last season. Sam's Adventure has been quickly eased for performances that might have been excused in years gone by. And then there is the curious case of Empire Steel.
A glance at the form might suggest that Empire Steel has come down 1lb for his run in the Rowland Meyrick. That would strike as strange to anyone who watched the race, given he was going best when falling four out. Considering those who survived took nearly a minute to run the remaining three furlongs, had Empire Steel been able to maintain the gallop to any serious degree he would have won by a very long way.
The reality is that this is another example of aggressive mark-dropping. Empire Steel was initially rated 142 after finishing second to Strictlyadancer over this course and distance in November. The race has since been revised downwards twice, including this week following Strictlyadancer's respectable fourth at Kempton last Saturday.
Even though Empire Steel looked the likeliest winner at Wetherby, his mark could not be touched due to a BHA handicapping policy that prevents raising horses who did not reach the second-last. While Empire Steel might be out of the weights here, had he got a couple of fences further at Wetherby you can bet he would now be rated higher than 143.
Plenty of contenders besides Empire Steel and Royale Pagaille have strong form at Haydock, a track known for producing specialists.
Rowland Meyrick second Lord Du Mesnil has course form figures of 1121, those being four of the best six runs of his career on RPRs. Sam's Adventure won last season's Tommy Whittle, while Remastered was second to the impressive Enqarde in that race last month. The talented but fragile Sam Brown had his finest hour in the Altcar Novices' Chase on this card two years ago.
Alnadam is basically unique in being of interest for this race without having any course form of which to speak. He ran here in November, in the graduation chase won by Bravemansgame, but that is inferred to have been just a pipe-opener for his season. He skipped the Racing Post Gold Cup due to ground and then plodded into third when joint-favourite for an equivalent race at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.
The big question over Alnadam is whether he is a one-paced 2m4f horse or a stayer. The evidence against the latter is a weak finish in last season's Ultima Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
What his best form suggests is that he benefits from getting a long run-up. His two best runs have been at Sandown, when he has led around the Pond fence and ground things out. He might not have the form at Haydock, but the track appeals as suiting Alnadam's skillset if it turns out he is a three-miler.
Keith Melrose, betting editor
Remastered 'has got a good chance'
The presence of the 163-rated Royale Pagaille, runner-up to A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase last time out, has compressed the handicap and enabled some talented performers to race off low weights.
Progressive stayer Remastered, who was running a huge race in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November when falling four out, looks a prime example.
The nine-year-old remains relatively unexposed over fences, with a strike-rate of three wins from six starts, and a stamina test on deep ground appears ideal for him.
Trainer David Pipe said: "He ran well last time at Haydock in a race that came quite quickly after he'd taken a heavy fall in the Ladbrokes Trophy. He did well to finish second and has come on since then. He'll think he's running loose with only 10st 7lb to carry. Hopefully he's got a good chance."
What they say
Venetia Williams, trainer of Royale Pagaille
It took a while to get him back into work after the Betfair Chase – he had nasty wounds on the front of a joint. He's ready to go again now at a course where he has run well in the past. He has plenty of weight to give to useful horses. Hopefully he'll run well.
Richard Hobson, trainer of Lord Du Mesnil
He's extremely well and came out of his Wetherby run in great shape. I hope the ground is deep enough for him. It's been dry for the last ten days and will be hard work, there's no doubt about that. I like the weights make-up for him – it's nice to see him carrying 10st 13lb for a change.
Anthony Honeyball, trainer of Sam Brown
I was quite happy with his run in the Many Clouds at Aintree. He's come on for it. We've always rated him a decent horse and I'll be very disappointed off his current mark if he isn't thereabouts at the finish. I'm surprised he's such a big price. He's won a Grade 2 novice chase at Haydock, will like the ground and stays okay. We're very happy with him.
Nick Alexander, trainer of Lake View Lad
It's a tough race but this time last year he was running against Native River in the rescheduled Cotswold at level weights. Since then he's been humping top weights in all these handicaps, so I'm delighted to see him run off 10st 7lb. It might come soon enough after Wetherby but there's not that many races for him. He'll either run well, in which case we'll be delighted, or he'll get well beaten again and the handicapper might give him more of a chance.
Philip Hobbs, trainer of Kalooki
We're putting cheekpieces on for the first time, which will hopefully enable him to travel a bit better. It was a good win from him at Doncaster last time. I hope he has a strong each-way chance.
Dan Skelton, trainer of Alnadam
He'll love the ground. I think the trip is fine on this type of track. He ran a good race at Cheltenham last time when the ground wasn't soft enough for him.
Sandy Thomson, trainer of Empire Steel
I was both delighted and gutted with him at Wetherby. He was running so well when he fell four out. It's a pity he's 3lb wrong at the weights this time but we'll have a shot at it.
Henry Daly, trainer of Fortescue
I hope the layout of Haydock with its long straights will play to his strengths. He's in good heart and I'm very happy with him. I'm sure he wants a bit further but he should get a suitable test on that sort of ground.