The Badger Ales Trophy Handicap Chase (3.25pm, Wincanton, Saturday) has been run in various guises for over 50 years and forms the highlight of Wincanton’s richest raceday. Ditcheat trainer Paul Nicholls has won the race four times in the last eight years.
This year Nicholls has two entries, Michel Le Bon (9/2) with Ruby Walsh on board, and No Loose Change (16/1), ridden by this year’s Grand National hero Daryl Jacob.
Michel Le Bon has raced just eight times in a career stretching back to January 2008, so he’s clearly had his problems. He hasn’t been seen since winning over hurdles at Chepstow last April. He resumes on a 6lb higher mark over fences and, although Paul Nicholls obviously knows what’s required to win this race, there’s always a degree of risk attached to backing “fragile” horses, especially after lengthy absences. Ruby Walsh has chosen him in preference to No Loose Change, but, even so, he’s hard to enthuse about.
No Loose Change has a similar profile to Michel Le Bon in that he has raced just 12 times, including four starts in point-to-points. He did manage to win a novices’ handicap chase at Newbury last season by 29 lengths, but that was on good going and he remains 11lb higher in the weights as a result. He was a major disappointment when pulling up, as favourite, on his reappearance at Fakenham two weeks ago and is probably best watched.
Of those with recent form, in-form Colin Tizzard’s Golden Chieftain (7/1) looks to have the best chance. It would be fair to say that he didn’t do much for his handicap mark when winning by 14 lengths, hard held, atWorcester last month, but he was rated 140 over hurdles, so his revised chasing mark of 142 may not be insurmountable.
Golden Chieftain has a decent strike rate for a horse of his ability and has won three times over three miles or further over fences. Those wins came on good to soft going, but he has won on soft and heavy going over hurdles, so he shouldn’t be unduly inconvenienced even if conditions become really testing.
Suzy Smith’s grand mare Aimigayle (20/1) has bits and pieces of form that suggest she may have a chance, but she hasn’t won a race of any kind for over three years and is just 1lb lower in the weights than when she last won. Now part-owned by actor Martin Clunes, Aimigayle also has an absence of 175 days to overcome. Apart from her debut run in a bumper in 2007, Aimigayle has never won first time out.
Alan King’s 10-year-old West End Rocker (16/1) is similarly uninspiring. He won the Becher Chase at Aintree by 22 lengths, on heavy going, last December, but fell in the Grand National and was pulled up in the Bet365 Gold Cup Chase at Sandown on his next two starts. He remains 9lb higher than his last winning mark and is another who’s probably best watched until he shows some semblance of form.
Zarrafakt (5/1) goes well fresh but is plenty short enough in the betting given he is making a seasonal debut. Of more interest would be Diamond Harry (7/1) who has an unblemished first time record and is well-in on his best form. David Pipe’s The Package (11/2) is sure to be fit and has attracted attention in the market.
With several of the market leaders out of form, lacking a recent outing, or both, back GOLDEN CHIEFTAIN to win the Badger Ales Trophy at odds of 7/1 with Bet365 or Stan James. He has a 15lb hike in the weights to overcome, but we know he’s fit and he’s proven over the course, over the distance and on the prevailing going, so he has fewer doubts about him than any of the others. The Tizzard yard is absolutely flying and few horses win an apparently competitive handicap chase with the ridiculous ease he did at Worcester. He could turn out to be something special.