Hitman, Sceau Royal and Funambule Sivola look the leading contenders in a competitive renewal of the Game Spirit Chase – At The Races’ Declan Rix gives us his verdict.
Trainer: Alan King Jockey: Sean Bowen
Been as good as ever over hurdles this season, winning at Kempton and Wincanton before finishing third in the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
He has always been a better chaser however, slick jumping a hallmark of his game.
Winner of this race last year, but now carries a 6lb penalty and may not get the same strong gallop to run at. Sean Bowen replaces the injured Daryl Jacob.
T: Jonjo O’Neill J: Nick Scholfield
Last season’s Grand Annual Handicap Chase winner at the Cheltenham Festival, in four runs this campaign, he has been remarkably consistent without winning.
On each occasion, he has travelled strongly before weakening a touch disappointingly each time.
This is arguably his best chance of winning this season, but must carry a 4lb penalty which won’t make things easy.
T: Venetia Williams J: Charlie Deutsch
Started last season officially rated 112, but now resides on a handicap mark of 154.
He has been wonderfully progressive and won a Doncaster handicap off 152 on his last start but this requires a little bit more, but he is at least penalty free, travels well, jumps soundly and is game.
The Williams/Deutsch axis continues in top order so he must be respected.
T: Paul Nicholls J: Harry Cobden
A likeable and steadily progressive young chaser who comes here on the back of a career best, having finished second to stablemate Greaneteen in the Tingle Creek Chase.
Didn’t jump as well as he can there, but a return to a flatter track on drying ground is a positive.
Given he is penalty-free, he looks to hold strong claims from the bottom of the weights, but the form of the Paul Nicholls yard has got to be a concern.
The post-declarations absence of Editeur Du Gite has the potential to make this year’s Game Spirit tactical, although, both Funambule Sivola and Hitman have made the running in the past and tend to take a hold when racing.
A strong gallop plays into the hands of Sceau Royal, who tends to thrive off a good pace and decent ground. The same can be said about Sky Pirate although, it’s a worry he hasn’t been seeing out his races late this season.
The penalty structure of the race make the Game Spirit hugely competitive, despite there only being four runners. At the prices, the race looks between Sceau Royal (2/1) and FUNAMBULE SIVOLA (11/4) for me, with the nod just going to the younger and hopefully still progressive seven-year-old.