The Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle (2.30pm, Haydock, Saturday) over three miles requires runners to negotiate 12 obstacles similar to plain fences, but lower in height. Unlike traditional hurdles, fixed brush hurdles are rigid in construction, so the emphasis is very much on jumping ability as well as stamina.
One horse with experience over fixed brush hurdles, although not yet in Britain, is David Pipe’s five-year-old Katkeau (6/1). He was a 15-length winner over 2m3½f on heavy going at Auteuil in June on his final start for Audrey Voraz, but hasn’t been seen in public since. David Pipe won this race with Dynaste last year and Grands Crus the year before, but the fact that Katkeau hasn’t won beyond 2m3½f has to be a worry as this race is three miles. He’s also been off the course for 156 days, which hardly helps his cause.
Tom George’s six-year-old Sivola De Sivola (13/2) won over 3m½f on good to soft going at Newbury last season and ran a promising race on his seasonal debut at Cheltenham last month. He was well backed on that occasion and, although driven along with five to jump, eventually stayed on finish fourth, beaten 8½ lengths, behind Action Master.
The horse that finished second, Viking Blond, has since run very well over fences, off a 5lb higher mark, so the form looks solid. Sivola De Sivola should be better for that run, his first since March, and although he is 10lb higher in the weights than when winning at Newbury he may still have more to offer.
Lucinda Russell’s Saphir River (9/1) is an interesting contender. He finished second, beaten just a length, in the Grade 1 Grand Prix d’Autumne at Auteuil last November, when trained in France. He then had three fruitless runs for Michael Scudamore.
He was a very easy winner over fences at Uttoxeter on his debut for Lucinda Russell three weeks ago and if he can translate that apparent improvement back to the smaller obstacles he may have a chance. That said, he has yet to win beyond 2m2f and his record of just two wins from 15 starts over hurdles and fences is not inspiring.
Gloucestershire trainer Jonjo O’Neill has two entries, the five-year-old Holywell (9/1) and the well-known Grand National runner-up Sunnyhillboy (25/1). Sunnyhillboy has an absence of 224 days to overcome and, while he shouldn’t be dismissed completely out of hand after failing by the narrowest margin to win at Aintree, preference must be for his younger stablemate on this occasion.
Holywell has finished second on both starts this season, most recently in the Matalan Handicap Hurdle, over 2m4f at Aintree last month. He acts on soft and heavy going and, as a point-to-point winner over three miles earlier in his career, he may well improve for a step up in trip. A line through Simonside suggests that he has something to find with Tim Easterby’s Trustan Times (16/1). That may be misleading as he is a young horse with just four career starts under Rules and likely to have plenty of improvement left in him.
With more rain forecast at Haydock, the race could develop into a real slog. So our advice is to bet on SIVOLA DE SIVOLA each-way at 13/2 with Bet365 or BetVictor. He appears to have stamina in abundance and should be all the better for his Cheltenham comeback last month.