Weatherbys Racing Bank David Whitaker Handicap Chase | 3m, 4yo+ | RTV
Two-time Grade 1 winner La Bague Au Roi looks to start her swansong season with victory at Perth with Warren Greatrex hoping his stable star can take advantage of a drop in grade.
The nine-year-old was outstanding in her novice chase campaign in the 2018-19 season, winning four of her five starts and beating Topofthegame and Santini in a red-hot Kauto Star at Kempton before triumphing in the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
But Greatrex believes those top-level efforts left their mark last season, when La Bague Au Roi was beaten in five runs and unseated Richard Johnson at the festival on her last appearance.
The mare drops from Graded level to Class 2 company for this handicap, and Gretarex said: "We're looking forward to it. She's in great form and has summered well. All of ours were in a bit earlier this year and she's fit enough for it, although she'll improve for it.
"It's a good race for her – although we're giving plenty of weight away – she likes a flat track and the better ground will suit her too. I think the previous season may have left her mark so we're hoping for a better start to the season. We'll know more about her after this but I think she's well handicapped."
Greatrex confirmed Julien Turner and Andrew Merriam's popular mare would be retired at the end of the season – but could tackle some big targets before then, including the inaugural mares' chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
"She's been an absolute star for us," said Greatrex. "It's her last season for us so it'd be great if we can have a few more good days with her. The owners are mad keen to run her in bigger races so we can look at the Ladbrokes Trophy and King George. The new mares' chase at the festival is another option for us."
La Bague Au Roi's biggest danger at Perth is Jarveys Plate, who represents the in-form Fergal O'Brien stable. The seven-year-old was an impressive Listed novice chase winner first time out last season, beating the highly regarded Reserve Tank at Chepstow.
Bafana Blue finished a fine second over course and distance last time and the Dan Skelton-trained Very First Time looks to build on his fifth in last season's Midlands Grand National.