Witness holds key to Kempton test
Simon Holt previews Saturday's racing and fancies Ardkilly Witness to win the BetBright Handicap Chase at Kempton.
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Saturday's renewal of the newly sponsored BetBright Handicap Chase - best known in former years as the Racing Post Chase - looks pretty weak on ratings compared to past runnings and, off a handicap mark of 152, the potentially smart Bury Parade should be capable of going close under top weight.
However, in receipt of 16lb and closely matched with the favourite on a line through a horse called Theatrical Star, ARDKILLY WITNESS could be the one to beat.
Dr Richard Newland's gelding is technically a novice but, two years ago, finished second behind crack Irish hunter Tammy's Hill at Cork and, since being transferred to this country, has hardly run a bad race.
Second to leading RSA Chase contender Smad Place at Exeter in November, Ardkilly Witness later trotted up at Wincanton before going down by three lengths to Relax (Theatrical Star third) on his handicap chase debut in attritional conditions at Sandown last time.
A line through sixth-placed Jump City suggests he can take care of Planet Of Sound, a course and distance winner last month.
Right-handed tracks like Kempton seem to suit Ardkilly Witness best and, up just 3lb for the Sandown effort and with further improvement likely, he looks sure to have a big say in things here.
Bury Parade has plenty of ability when inclined to use it but has proved disappointing on one or two occasions and refused to race at Exeter in December.
Fitted with a hood at Ascot (2m6f) last time, the Highclere-owned gelding was most impressive in beating stable companion Grandioso and, even though the runner-up (his stablemate) gets a 9lb pull for five lengths, he should be able to confirm those placings if jumping and travelling with similar enthusiasm.
Theatrical Star was over 11 lengths away in third there and the readjusted weights suggests that Ardkilly Witness and Bury Parade could be evenly matched on these terms. But I am swayed by the selection's proven stamina and better odds - and slightly mistrust Bury Parade's quirkiness.
Grandioso is again likely to run well but the weight turnaround with Bury Parade is mitigated by Harry Derham's good value 5lb allowance in that Ascot contest. The seven-year-old has a past course win to his name, over 2m5f last season, so handles the track and Daryl Jacob takes over this time.
Further down the weights, both Standing Ovation and Baile Anrai have enjoyed good seasons but the former was found wanting after a steep rise in the weights when seeking a five-timer at Cheltenham in November and Baile Anrai has gone up 5lb for finishing second to The Rainbow Hunter at Doncaster (Niceonefrankie fifth) on his latest effort.
At double-figure odds, Midnight Appeal could have each-way claims after his second to Triangular here last time, though Alan King's charge had a hard race that day.
Newcastle's Betfred Eider Chase over four miles and a furlong always demands extreme stamina and this year's race will be no exception with ground conditions described as heavy.
If reproducing his stout-hearted Sandown performance, Relax looks a leading contender (up just 7lb) but the fact that he had earlier finished well beaten behind Planet Of Sound at Kempton illustrates his occasional unpredictability.
The most progressive horse in the field has to be SUN CLOUD who was always going well in the North Yorkshire Grand National at Catterick in early January, slamming the hat-trick seeking Merlins Wish by 11 lengths (Diamond Harry a faller two out when looking held in second place).
Malcolm Jefferson's seven-year-old jumped fluently and economically throughout for Brian Hughes in that three miles and six furlong contest and it is hard to believe that, if he travels in similarly easy fashion, this extra distance will be beyond him.
Sun Cloud has been pushed up 12lb in the ratings for that success so it won't be easy but this is a stayer fast on the improve for a trainer who is enjoying his best-ever season.
Again, Dr Richard Newland could provide the danger with Royale Knight, a creditable third behind Shotgun Paddy at Warwick since making the long journey north to Kelso pay off in December when winning the Scottish Borders National over four miles.