Flame can burn bright
Simon Holt previews Wednesday's stanjames.com Chester Cup and takes two against the field.
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Wednesday's stanjames.com Chester Cup features one of my favourite horses, Countrywide Flame.
He was in terrific form over hurdles this winter, including an excellent third in the Champion Hurdle, and his National Hunt handicap marked jumped up quite dramatically.
Therefore he's potentially well handicapped on the Flat now - but that said I thought it was the case going into last year's Cesarewitch too and he couldn't get the better of Aaim to Prosper that day. Tominator was third at Newmarket and there shouldn't be much between the pair again here on these terms.
However I have to be with Countrywide Flame, he's tough and genuine, should be suited by the course and distance, and has a good draw in four.
Last year's winner Ile De Re goes again. He followed up his victory here last year by landing the Northumberland Plate but both those races were on soft ground. He's definitely better with a bit of cut and it doesn't seem as though he'll get his conditions on Wednesday. He's also up in the handicap and all in all I think he'll struggle to defend his title.
One of the most interesting runners is Buckland who rattled up a sequence on the all-weather over the winter and seemed to run out of his skin to finish fourth behind Estimate in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot last week.
It's always risky transferring conditions form to handicaps but a strict reading of that Ascot run would suggest Buckland could be up to seven pounds well in here. He's a handy sort so should handle the track and the booking of William Buick has to be a positive.
You have to fear the Irish raiders. Aidan O'Brien doesn't have many runners in handicaps and has booked Ryan Moore for Justification who could still be capable of better. Dermot Weld's Olympiad disappointed in the Cesarewitch but had earlier won well at York but stall 17 has to be a big worry.
Simenon completed a Royal Ascot double last year and is a talented stayer who could run very well despite top weight but I'm taking two against the field, COUNTRYWIDE FLAME with a saver on BUCKLAND.