Sky Sports Racing’s Mike Cattermole has his eye on the feature at Doncaster on Saturday, the Grade Two December Novices’ Chase, live at 12.55pm.
This race used to be held at Lingfield but found a new home at Doncaster from 2014. The first winner, in 1988, was Nick The Brief, later a high-class chaser who locked horns in a memorable duel with Desert Orchid at Sandown.
When he won this race, however, he was trained by John Costello and he remains the only Irish-trained winner. Will that change this year with Mahler Mission?
Paul Nicholls has won it four times in the past nine years but is surprisingly not represented this time. However, his winner last year, Threeunderthrufive, was owned by the McNeill family who have shares in two runners, Autonomous Cloud and Restandbethankful.
The ground is good but, with the falling temperatures, the course was covered with frost sheets on Wednesday.
It could be on the tacky side come Saturday.
Placed in three hurdles starts at around two and a half miles but has looked the type to improve once faced with fences and comes from the family of the top-class Voy Por Ustedes.
Reappeared after seven months off at Worcester on his chase debut, going down by a neck to Sam Barton in a seven-runner field off a handicap mark of 116. The step up to just under three miles seemed to suit him and he is sure to come on and improve again.
But he needs to, to go close in this.
Seems odd that he can run in a novice chase and yet is the veteran of 22 chase starts, the winner of two of them and placed a further nine times.
A sound surface suits him best but he hardly lines up in great form. Indeed, his recent two starts were way below his best and he is likely to be outclassed here, even though he is bred to be fairly useful.
Gentleman At Arms
Flat-bred and won three times on the level before joining Stuart Edmunds at the start of last season after changing hands for 40,000gns at the sales.
Did well over hurdles, often making the running, winning twice from eight starts (both at Huntingdon) and runner-up twice, including in the Grade One Sefton Hurdle at Aintree when beaten four and a half lengths by Gelino Bello.
Didn’t run too badly on his reappearance at Aintree but was well beaten at Haydock last time, prompting connections to give up on a hurdling campaign and try chasing.
Said to have schooled well but I’d prefer to see him do it in public before recommending him to win here, even if he is the second highest-rated hurdler in the field.
Lost his form over hurdles towards the end of last season, having gained his only win at Ludlow, although he was surely going to win on his previous start at Warwick, too, but for tipping up when clear at the last.
Those were all at around two and a half miles and he looked a different horse when stepping up to an extended three miles at Hereford when landing a novice handicap chase there last month, strolling home 24 lengths clear on just his second chase start.
That was off 112 and he has been raised 14lb to 126 which should put him right in the mix. Bred to do well in this sphere with his elder half-sister Found On winning five times over fences this year.
Very interesting but get the impression that he is not among the yard’s stars as he never even got a mention in any Skelton Stable Tour!
Irish point-to-point winner who won over hurdles at Musselburgh last March but then was a touch disappointing in first-time cheekpieces when upped to three miles in a handicap at Ayr.
Having his first run for seven months when pushing the very smart Grade One-winning hurdler Gelino Bello all the way on his chase debut at Wetherby, in a race that turned into a match after Press Your Luck had whipped round and unseated at the start.
It might be misleading to take the form literally but he was beaten just half a length by a rival rated 27lb his superior (who won another match easily last week at Exeter) and he jumped well, too. If as good as that, is entitled to be bang there.
Steadily progressive over hurdles last season and won the Grade Two River Don Hurdle on this course last January on good ground from The Real Whacker (winner of a novice chase at Cheltenham last month), the pair coming clear.
Well held in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival after that but bounced back to win a Listed event at Perth on his final start, making all.
So, what to make of his novice chase debut at Cheltenham seven weeks ago? He was left well behind in the closing stages by Chemical Energy, so tired that he barely scrambled over the last fence.
His trainer, who was in blistering form a couple of months ago, not quite so hot now, told Sky Sports Racing that they had underestimated his fitness and have worked on that since. He has also had his soft palate cauterised because he gurgled.
Risks attached but set to run well, if back to his best.
Three-time hurdles winner who won a handicap at Huntingdon a year ago off a mark of 122. Placed on his first three chase starts – after a second wind operation – but not so good at Wetherby last time when well held.
Tackles three miles for the first time here and needs to raise his game but is suited by good ground.
Flat-bred mare who won the Chester Plate, the Chester Cup consolation race, back in May on good ground when last seen.
Decent hurdling form before that, with wins at Ludlow and Hereford in February before two fair efforts in defeat.
Gets the 7lb mares allowance on her chase debut, has gone well fresh in the past and her stable is in form, so there is much to like. She has the size to jump fences, too.
There are questions surrounding all of them in a puzzling renewal, with many of those that have chasing experience needing to find a bit more.
Mahler Mission was legless up the Cheltenham hill on his chase debut (fitness issue maybe and made a noise) but comes into it on his win here over hurdles at this level last January. It requires a leap of faith after a soft palate operation but his trainer is going places, fast.
Gentleman At Arms brings some decent hurdles form to the table on his chase debut.
The best chase form on offer may be from Loughderg Rocco who pushed Gelino Bello all the way at Wetherby, jumping well in the main, and he can go well.
But the pick is BELLATRIXSA who has some size about her as she tackles fences for the first time and her hurdling form puts her in with a great chance on ground she is comfortable on.