The Warwick Classic Chase – 3pm, Saturday – is a good race in its own right, and in the past couple of years it has thrown up strong candidates for the Grand National.
Last year’s Classic Chase winner Milansbar (runs again on Saturday) was 5th in the 2018 National, and the previous Classic Chase winner One For Arthur won the big one at Aintree. Incidentally, both winners were by the sire Milan; his only representative this time is Milansbar.
There’s a reasonable chance that Saturday’s running will produce another strong fancy for the big one in April. The 3m5f trip offers the basic stamina template, the fences are tricky, with a line of 5 down the back that come every hundred yards, and the race is often run at strong pace. The past 16 runnings have been on easy ground. If the current forecast holds true, this will be its first running on good going since the year 2000 (abandoned in 2003. 2009, 2010)
My main bet is Step Back, a 9-y-o who has contested only 5 steeplechases and a total of just 7 races under rules (he has run in 8 point-to-points). Such a record at 9 tells you he has been hard to train. The early market for Saturday indicates little confidence in him. This might be down to suspicions that he has not had an ideal prep, though there is also talk that he prefers going right-handed and that he has gone up too much in the handicap.
I don’t know anything about his performance in training, his going left-handed causes me no concern, and I’m pretty sure the weight he has won’t bother him in the least. He travels like a classy horse and that was nowhere more apparent than when he won the Bet365 Chase at Sandown on the final day of last season. He moved through that race like a graded performer in a handicap. He had just 10 stone that day, but the impression he left on me wasn’t connected to the light weight on his back. This is a high class horse. Physical issues might prevent him reaching his full potential this late in the day, but I’m confident he has the attributes to go close in high class company, and is more than good enough to win this.
His fine jumping ought to stand him in good stead, as will his ability to travel and change gear. Some will be disappointed by his last run, especially after he’d racked up two easy wins in a row in better company. But the way he travelled through that Chepstow race in October suggested strongly that he has lost none of his talent. Once he began tiring, he wasn’t given a hard time by his jockey. He should reap the benefits of that sympathy on Saturday.
I’ve had 5/6ths of my stake on Step Back at 9/1 (Unibet: online only) and the other 6th will go on Cogry as a saver. I believe that Nigel Twiston-Davies sometimes over-races his horses and Cogry had a really tough race last time, leading throughout and battling heroically to hold off Singlefarmpayment by a head. But Cogry himself is ultra tough and this time I hope his trainer has got it right.
Cogry is often seen at Cheltenham, but he’s won here and he was 2nd in this race last year. He’s wonderful to watch when blazing a trail at which his jockey Sam Twiston-Davies excels. If the ground is good it’ll suit him very well indeed.
In summary, main selection is Step Back. Saver is Cogry at 9/1 (Bet365).
I write this late on Thursday, but the race has 48 hour declarations so is no longer an antepost event. If your selection does not run, you’ll get your money back.