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Marriott Interactive Handicap Chase preview

The wet weather up and down the isle of Britain has put paid to a few meetings this week but the great mind of the north, Mark Rowntree, @uptheirons007, has chipped in with a look at the best race at Newcastle, a meeting likely to survive the big wet. Read more of his work on his blog.

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Marriott Interactive Handicap Chase
Three miles, Newcastle, Saturday 1340.


A race that has attracted only seven entries, but a competitive field for the feature-the Class 3, Marriott Interactive Handicap Chase run over 3M. Conditions will be testing (albeit less so than elsewhere in the South), with 32mm of rain having fallen on Gosforth Park since the previous meeting on December 21st. The going is currently described as Heavy, Soft in Places.

Ann Hamilton’s 11yo Rolecarr, a winner seven times from 38 career starts heads the weights off 11st 12lbs, conceding in excess of a minimum of almost a stone to all his rivals. Rolecarr adores Kelso, having won on five occasions at the Borders venue, including most recently when seeing off Or De Grugy (a winner last week) by a nose off a mark of 129 there in February 2013. This gelding had also previously landed the Timeform Jury Handicap Chase in successive years at the same venue in December 2011 and 2012-at varying trips of 3m1f and 2m7f due to the track reconfiguration at Kelso in the Summer of 2012. More recently he’s been beaten on his last two starts at Kelso by Donald McCain’s Kruzlinin, and with his other two career successes coming at Carlisle, he has plenty to prove off top weight at Gosforth Park. Rolecarr has generally run below par at Newcastle in the past (although in a fair grade – most notably when behind Junior in the 2012 Rehearsal Chase) despite being trained locally at nearby Otterburn.

Donald McCain will still be getting to know the 8yo gelding Knockgraffon Star. Formerly with Noel Meade in Ireland, Knockgraffon Star lost his way after scoring in a bumper at Naas (Jan 2011), and in a novice hurdle at Navan (Jan 2012). However, these pair of successes do suggest that he performs well at this time of year, and handles deep testing ground. In his sole start for McCain, Knockgraffon Star finished 5th of 10 behind Sun Cloud over 2m7f at Hexham in mid December 2013. The fact he weakened from the third last after making headway mid race from the rear was probably to be expected on his first run since April 2013. Also racing from a weight of 11st 12lbs at Hexham, he may appreciate the better grade here which sees him race off a more reasonable 10st 13lbs. Personally, I think Knockgraffon Star will further benefit from the run, but is a horse to be interested in going forward.

Mister Philson represents the bang in form Northern Irish based yard of Stuart Crawford. Crawford has already notched four winners in the UK in 2014 courtesy of doubles at both Musselburgh and Ayr. Mister Philson finished fourth, one place ahead of Knockgraffon Star in the aforementioned contest at Hexham. However, his attitude had looked in question, somewhat running in snatches and driven along with a circuit to run and weakening from the second last despite the application of headgear and the persuasion of 18 time Champion Jockey Tony McCoy. In fairness, Mister Philson is lightly raced after 12 career starts and did create a good impression back in April 2013 in a Novice Chase at Hexham, making all to justify favouritism and see off Lucinda Russell’s On Broadway for Peter Buchanan. With a proven ability over further, it may simply be that races over three miles (even on Heavy ground) aren’t enough of a test of stamina for Mister Philson, so I expect to see him forcing a strong pace early doors in this race.

Will Kinsey’s Cheshire raider Gwladys Street is another who is stamina laden. The 7yo Gelding scored in a pair of long distance (3m3f) Handicap Hurdles at Sedgefield in January and March 2013 for Charlie Huxley. These successes coming from official handicap ratings of 94 & 105. In three starts over fences during October and December 2013, the gelding’s best effort came at Bangor when a five length second to Henry Daly’s Castle Conflict. Gwlady’s Street has age on his side and looks the type to improve for Handicap Chases, but did hit the deck on his fencing debut, so does have some questions to answer in the jumping department despite remaining unexposed.

Etxalar brings winning form into the race, and remains feasibly handicapped, having dug deep to see off Indian Voyage on Heavy ground at Carlisle in December 2013. This success came in Etxalar’s first race since September 2013 (Perth), so Lucinda Russell’s 11yo comes into this contest a relatively fresh horse. A four time winner, Etxalar has won from a career high of 121, and was thrown in when a decisive winner, also at Carlisle on Good ground off 99 in March 2013. However, Etxalar is a horse better suited going right handed to left (with three successes at Carlisle), and despite having won previously on Heavy ground, I feel he’s a horse also much better suited by a better surface. One these facts alone, he’s worth opposing in this race, coupled with having previously run below par at Newcastle in the past (albeit mainly at an inadequate 2m4f). However, from a fair mark Etxalar will be a horse to watch closely at either Carlisle or Perth in the Spring of 2014.

Bertie Milan, despite shouldering an attractive looking racing weight in the conditions (10st 2lbs) has something to prove on his three starts this campaign. Although shaping with promise at Carlisle behind the progressive Tutchec in October (2m4f), he’s been disappointing on his last two starts when 5th to Snuker at Hexham (3m2f) and when beaten favourite (third of four) behind Kealigolane over 3m at Musselburgh in early December. Furthermore the Hexham effort finds him with work to do to reverse the placings with Etxalar (finished third) despite meeting that rival on 7lb better terms today.

Verdict

The confident selection, even in a relatively trappy affair is the unmentioned to date War On. This 7yo gelding is the least experienced of the seven runners after only eight career starts to date. War On scored just the once over hurdles on a Soft surface in November 2012 at Wetherby, staying on strongly to deny Donald McCain’s Deise Dynamo, having raced prominently throughout before being briefly outpaced. Over fences, War On is unexposed, having had just the three starts in Novice Chases on vastly unfavourable terms against talented rivals. Although fourth of sixth on his fencing debut behind the useful Sue Smith trained Green Wizard at Wetherby in May 2013, it is his two efforts at Newcastle this season which yield greater encouragement. A keeping on fifteen length third of four to Yesyoucan (Brian Ellison) and Bit of a Jig (Donald McCain) over an inadequate 2m4f in November, he followed this up with an excellent second placing behind Swatow Typhoon over 3m here two weeks ago. Although never threatening a progressive winner (won since at Ayr) he stayed on much the best of the remainder in the shape of a horse who will relish the step into Handicap company. War On is a horse with a future in this sort of grade at the Northern venues such as Newcastle, Hexham and Carlisle, and should go close to providing a first winner of 2014 for Billingham based trainer Chris Grant, and enthusiastic local owner David Armstrong at a decent price.

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