It's a big afternoon in Warwick's calendar on Saturday as they host the Grade 3 Classic Chase over a marathon three-mile-five-furlong distance. The race is amongst Britain's leading Grand National Trials and has attracted an excellent line-up. There are also a pair of Grade 2 novice events on the undercard with racing at Warwick from 12.40pm-4.05pm on Saturday. The Racing Post brings expert analysis and selections for all seven races on the card.
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12.40 - Pertemps Network Novices' Handicap Hurdle (2m4f)
It wasn't what could be called 'textbook' given he ran in snatches through the race, but FRANKINCENSE still scored with something in hand at Exeter (2m1f, good to soft) in November on what was just his second hurdles start for this trainer.
He's been put up 6lb for that success but both the second and third were next-time-out winners and the Galileo gelding makes strongest appeal in this field after a short break since that win. That's as much owing to his success last time as the fact that plenty of these have questions against them.
Ex-Joseph O'Brien inmate Pasley hasn't sparkled since joining Jonjo O'Neill but sees a handicap mark tumbling as a consequence and it may not be long before he perks up.
Detached was successful on penultimate outing at Uttoxeter under Ben Godfrey and can go well with the same rider on board now while handicap debutant Magnificent Ben could well be an improver in first-time headgear for the Christian Williams team.
1.15 - Edward Courage Cup Handicap Chase (2m)
Plenty of the six-runner field can come into this with hopes of success. Generous Day won this contest two years ago and is starting to approach a workable mark based on his Ludlow third last time but Henry Oliver's charge may land on easier chances than this before long.
Sky Pirate's Cheltenham success last month was most impressive as he cruised clear of the field and readily fended off progressive, next-time-out winner Ibleo for a fine victory. The handicapper took a dim view and he is 11lb higher in the ratings today. If he's in a similar mood he'll have his chance but he's not always been one to relish a scrap in the past.
With Haydock winner Equus Miller and Destrier both capable, this should be well-contested and maybe Sky Pirate will wilt.
Not so AMOOLA GOLD, stablemate of Destrier and the choice of Harry Cobden from two his brother Dan saddles.
He also took the scalp of Ibleo at Ascot in October before just missing out on a hat-trick back there in November. The winner First Flow defied a 6lb rise to score at Wetherby over Christmas while Paul Nicholls' Capeland was successful last weekend at Wincanton (2m4f, soft).
Amoola Gold was flying at the line last time at Ascot, making up plenty of late ground and he looks a major threat again from this 5lb higher mark for a stable enjoying a super season.
1.50 - McCoy Contractors Civils And Infrastructure Hampton Novices' Chase (Grade 2, 3m)
The first of a brace of Grade 2 novice events on the Warwick card and despite just a trio turning up, this Hampton Novices' Chase offer plenty of intrigue.
Golan Fortune scored at Ludlow in early December on his chasing bow and Phil Middleton's runner has since posted a pleasing fourth in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices' Chase at Kempton over Christmas. Granted, he had only one other finisher behind him but he'll have taken plenty from that experience and cannot be dismissed in haste.
Odds-on favouritism looks to be the way of it for Next Destination after his Newbury win in this grade in November on his own chase debut, just his second start for Paul Nicholls after arriving from Willie Mullins' in the summer.
The form of that race hasn't exactly inspired confidence, with runner-up One For The Team the rival that failed to beat home Golan Fortune in the aforementioned Kauto Start at Christmas. It has to be something of a worry therefore that the Ditcheat runner is conceding 5lb to his rivals, albeit his trainer has been bullish in the run-up to this.
The suggestion however is that FIDDLERONTHEROOF may be the answer. He's shown a good level of form in four starts over fences with figures of 2122 this far in small-field events. The latest two of those runs were in Newbury and Ascot Grade 2s where he was beaten favourite. In both instances, he appeared to get caught for a bit of toe before sticking to his guns fairly resolutely.
He tackles three miles for the first time and can make the 5lb tell late on.
2.25 - Ballymore Leamington Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m5f)
Admirel is two-from-two over timber thus far and brings plenty to the table in this hat-trick bid. Tom Lacey's charge won well on heavy ground at Haydock last month and may offer more in new headgear but this represents a tougher challenge and he may find that Cheltenham winner MAKE ME A BELIEVER has his measure at this stage.
David Pipe's charge chased home the very exciting Bear Ghylls at Lingfield (2m3½f, good so soft) in October, some 376 days on from his Chepstow bumper success on rules bow. The winner has since added victories at Ffos Las and Exeter, while that Lingfield race also threw up a trio of subsequent winners outside of the front pair.
Make Me A Believer meanwhile had a wind operation after that run and was a determined and game victor at Cheltenham last month defeating easy Bangor winner Any News after they drew clear of their rivals up the hill. That was over 2m1f and he looks sure to appreciate going back up in trip now. He's up in Grade 2 company and this is tougher, as it should be, but he looks to have a bright future and is fancied to improve again and add to his tally.
Oscar Elite hasn't really been tested in record back-to-back successes at Chepstow (2m3½f/2m7½f, heavy) and so Colin Tizzard's unexposed runner is very much one for any shortlist.
Optimise Prime and Pure Bliss make it a quartet of runners coming into this contest with two wins from two starts over timber, ensuring it has the look of a good Grade 2 contest. Harry Fry's mare could go well getting weight from the boys at a decent price.
3.00 - McCoy Contractors Civil Engineering Classic Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 3m5½f)
A marathon test and one in which Captain Chaos bids to go one better than 12 months ago. Dan Skelton's charge set a hectic gallop in that contest and managed to fend off all bar Kimberlite Candy in the end. He proved it was no fluke with a heavy-ground win at Doncaster soon after.
He's only 2lb higher in the ratings now, owing considerably to a trio of sub-standard runs this season. A much-improved effort could be forthcoming back here and he's certainly one to consider.
Challenging him for favouritism is Alan King's Notachance, victorious on his reappearance at Bangor in November and up 7lb for his troubles. He's a worthy contender with a growing reputation over fences.
Storm Control gained successive wins at Cheltenham in November and December at up to 3m2f. He all bar pulled himself up in front last time only to rally once he was headed. Clearly he's not done with improving yet and he's respected upped in distance.
Stamina is key and will not be a problem for LE BREUIL, winner of the 'four-miler' at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival on the final occasion it was run over that trip. He didn't fire last season, with his fifth-place finish in this race about the best of three efforts over fences.
Ben Pauling appears more happy with him now however and he was third in the Becher at Aintree in December after which he underwent wind surgery. He is now rated 8lb lower than when he contested this race a year ago and, with the pleasing run last time out in mind and his wind op, a big showing is forecast.
It's been 427 days since Achille was spotted on the racecourse but he was progressive over fences at that point having finished first or second in five of six starts from December 2018-November 2019. Venetia Williams is adept at getting one ready to sparkle after a layoff and he's one that may outrun his odds.
3.35 - Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (3m1f)
A mark of 134 could be well within reach for last month's decisive Cheltenham winner COME ON TEDDY. Tom George's son of Fame And Glory is right at home over a staying trip and he came through under a patient ride from Sam Twiston-Davies that afternoon to ultimately go clear of the field.
He was getting his share of weight of course but the form was advertised last week as runner-up On The Blind Side gave McFabulous most to think about in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton. Come On Teddy looks sure to make further progress and can pocket this race, possibly en route to Cheltenham in March.
Second choice would be Mr Harp. He twice saw the back of Barbados Buck's at Southwell over this trip before scoring at Uttoxeter on heavy ground last month. Paul Nicholls' charge confirmed he's a very promising stayer with his Kempton victory last weekend and Mr Harp should be competitive despite an 8lb rise for his recent win.
4.05 - Here Comes McCoy 'Newcomers' Standard Open NH Flat Race (2m)
These are all newcomers to the racecourse so the market vibes are going to be especially important.
On paper, the obvious starting place is Gold Bullion. The Fame And Glory gelding cost ?90,000 and represents a Ditcheat team going great guns. Nicholls has a 31 per-cent strike-rate in bumpers over the last 12 months and could add to that now.
Ted's Friend represents Fergal O'Brien, another handler in good form and with a decent record in these contests. Baxter Basics makes some appeal on paper but maybe the mare CODE NAME LISE can foil the boys. She, too, is by Fame And Glory and ?85,000. Her trainer is 3-11 with bumper runners in recent times (three more placed) and Aidan Coleman is a positive booking for this debut test.