Astra can motor home
Ian Ogg previews Saturday's Paul Stewart Ironspine Charity Challenge Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
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Walkon is vying for favouritism in the Paul Stewart Ironspine Charity Challenge Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday which is thoroughly deserved after his fine run behind Al Ferof in the Paddy Power.
Last year's winner Quantitativeeasing filled the same position in November before going one better in this race and Alan King has always held his grey in high regard and that big run went some way to justifying his opinion while a 5lb higher mark still leaves him feasibly treated.
In recent seasons his form has declined after his reappearance and there has to be a huge doubt about him backing up that run given his profile; to take odds of 6/1, I'd be wanting to go into the race with more than just hope in my heart.
He's vying for favouritism with Unioniste who is switched to handicap company following a couple of runs in novice contests since arriving from France.
He's impressed with his fencing and his opening mark of 137 appears to have given him a chance but he's of tender years at the age of just four; I don't have the relevant data to know how many horses of that age group have contested this race but I do know that none has won and, again, I'd rather look elsewhere.
Hunt Ball remains on the radar but the layers understandably haven't taken any chances with him and it's hard to support a horse that ran as badly as he did last time even allowing for the excuses about the ground.
Top of the short-list is Astracad at a widely available 16-1 but I must also give a mention to Menorah.
Philip Hobbs' charge has an alternative engagement in the Peterborough Chase on Thursday so I couldn't put him up at this stage.
Given the general air of disappointment that surrounded his debut season over fences, it's easy to forget how impressive he was when slamming Cristal Bonus and Al Ferof at Aintree.
Granted his jumping leaves something to be desired but he's a class act when everything clicks and is far from badly treated on a mark of 160 and 20-1 is the sort of price that encourages you to take a chance with one but, as I mentioned, he may not line up so we'll leave him for another day.
Back to Astracad who doesn't have the big reputation that many of his rivals can boast while Nigel Twiston-Davies' horses often seem to be underrated in the big handicaps but last Saturday's events at Aintree should serve as a timely reminder of the trainer's talents.
Providing there are no hiccups between here and the big race, he's almost guaranteed to run as well which is, of course, vitally important in the ante-post market.
I will be re-visiting the race for my stats preview towards the end of the week but a quick glance down at my figures reveals that the six year old ticks a number of the right boxes and the case for him is relatively straightforward.
He has only finished out of the money twice in eight starts over fences and they came in the Grand Annual and last time out in a Cheltenham handicap won by Shooters Wood where he was made to look rather onepaced.
This stoutly bred individual has already won over two miles five and looks to be crying out for a return to the longer trip and can improve for it.
There may well be better handicapped horses in the field but there are question marks over a large number of his rivals.
He is consistent, jumps well, has plenty of track form to his name and it will be disappointing if he can't, at the very least, hit the frame..