15:40 Aintree: Cottage Oak to build on Festival third in Fox Hunters
Fancied horses have an outstanding record in the Fox Hunters’ Chase and that looks set to continue with those situated at the market’s summit of most interest. Despite the competitiveness that is a hallmark of this contest remaining, 16 of the last 18 winners have emerged from the top four in the betting.
At first glance this year’s renewal appears to be wide-open, but on closer inspection those in the front row of the betting have the right credentials for victory.
Paul Nicholls hasn’t won this since Torduff Express dismantled the field back in 2002 but in the hat-trick chasing Gwanako he returns with the likely favourite at 5/1. Two relatively bloodless wins at Sandown since the middle of February under his rider this time around, Jody Sole, have continued the ten-year-old’s resurgence in the game.
After going almost two years without a win, Ditcheat’s charge has got his head in front in four of his last seven, however whatever encouragement can be taken from that record must be dampened by his past efforts at Aintree.
Since winning at his first visit back in 2008 Gwanako has been back four times, unseating his rider, falling twice and coming last but one, albeit when unconsidered at 100/1 in the Liverpool Hurdle.
Conversely, Cottage Oak makes his course debut, but there are plenty of reasons to think it could be a successful bow at 7/1. There was a lot to like about how J J O’Shea’s star kept on again under pressure to secure third place in the Cheltenham version of this and that first full spin around Prestbury Park could prove to be invaluable experience.
The booking of Sam Waley-Cohen, perhaps counter-intuitively, is also an attribute that cannot be underestimated. Twice a winner of this contest aboard his father’s Katarino, for all his alleged faults, jumping the bigger obstacles is not one of them.
Jumping is the key to the race and with all the other boxes ticked in terms of age, form and profile, Cottage Oak could be the answer.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.