Christian Williams says it would be “magic” if Cap Du Nord could take another step forward at Kempton Park tomorrow (Saturday 27th February) and capture the Close Brothers Handicap Chase.
Since finishing fourth at Wincanton on his return to action the eight year old has continued to progress in both victory and defeat, leaving his Welsh handler with plenty of confidence ahead of his first outing at Grade Three level in the three mile feature.
Having finished second over course and distance behind subsequent Peter Marsh winner Royal Pagaille over Christmas, the Voix Du Nord gelding found only Takingrisks and Aye Right too strong in the Listed Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on his most recent start at the end of January.
Williams said: “Cap Du Nord has been unbelievable this season. He ripped a shoe off the last day and he was a bit sore but I don’t think that made any difference as he was just outstayed by two stronger stayers.
“I think he is a better horse on nicer ground and if it is he will be closer than he was at Doncaster. We were the only one to make Royale Pagaille shake his reins at Christmas between the last two fences and he stuck on well. We’ve heard plenty about that though from the handicapper as he seems to stick us up every week!
“He ticks plenty of boxes and though it is very competitive he deserves to be favourite and I wouldn’t swap him for anything else in the race. His win at Newbury was great but he deserves to win a big one. If he wins one it would be magic.”
Though Cap Du Nord holds an entry in the Randox Grand National at Aintree in April, the former rider-turned trainer believes his end of season aim could be elsewhere.
He added: “We thought he would be a good stayer but he wasn’t quite mature enough for it last season. He has the National entry but he might struggle to get in. The Scottish National at Ayr has good prize money and the owner likes going to that meeting and there is also the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown. These are races we could strongly think about but we will have to see what he does on Saturday first.”
Meanwhile the Alan King-trained Talkischeap will bid to enhance his Randox Grand National claims when making his first start over fences since pulling up behind Mister Malarky in this race 12 months ago.
King said: “We’ve given him a couple of spins on the All-Weather as we needed to run him but we didn’t want to run him on that soft ground.
“The only Flat race I could find for him first time out was at Southwell and that wouldn’t have been ideal for him, but it gave him an away day and we got a good blow into him.
“Luckily they put on one of the jumpers’ bumper cards at Lingfield and I was very pleased with how he ran there. Those two races have really sharpened him up. He had a good school last week and the ground is coming in his favour.
“We need to get a chase into him to qualify for the Grand National as that is where his owner wants to go.”
Tom George expects Clondaw Castle to thrive for the step up in trip having finished second over an extended two and a half miles at the track in last month’s Grade Two Silviniaco Conti Chase behind Master Tommytucker.
He said: “He has been waiting to go three miles and it should bring about further improvement. He has got a good level of form over two and a half miles and he is ready for this trip now. He loves good ground and we have been fortunate to find a few races for him this season on nicer ground. He struggled a bit in the Peterborough Chase on the ground but he still finished third but he run well last time on the drying ground.
“He is on the verge of being proper Graded class. He was fourth in an Arkle when he was younger (2019) but I’ve no doubt in my mind he will stay this trip.”
The Slad handler is also represented by Double Shuffle, who rolled back the years at the age of 11 to score over course and distance on his latest start.
George, who saddled Nacarat to glory in the race in 2009 and 2012, added: “He likes good ground and Kempton, they are his two things he loves. It took the handicapper a long time to drop him down in the weights but he took advantage last time.
“He is in tremendous form and if we could go to Kempton every time we would but unfortunately we have to go other places as there isn’t the races for him there.
“He has gone up five pounds for his last win but I think he should still be competitive and he showed last time he retains plenty of ability.”
Recent Musselburgh winner Romain De Senam, from the yard of Dan Skelton, will bid to make it third time lucky in the race having finished fourth in the 2019 renewal and eighth last year on what was his final start for former trainer Paul Nicholls.
Skelton said: “I’m very happy with Romain De Senam. He won last time but his handicap mark has gone up as a result and this will be his first start over three miles this season. He is in great form though and the ground should be perfect so I can’t really complain.”
A total of 18 runners go to post the three mile contest, which is due off at 3.35pm.