Peter Marsh Handicap Chase | Grade 2 | 3m1f | ITV4/RUK
Hainan may not have the class of some of the race’s previous winners – which include Bristol De Mai (2017), Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Jodami (1993 and 1997) and Bregawn (1982) – but none of his 12 rivals are likely to relish the demanding underfoot conditions as much as him.
This nicely progressive seven-year-old ground his rivals into submission over 3m4f on this course in November, and an 8lb rise in the ratings might not be enough to stop him.
He looks to have a nice racing weight of 10st 11lb and, with that proven stamina a huge plus, his backers will be entitled to feel confident of a payout if he hits the front at any time up the home straight.
Robert Walford is enjoying a fine season with the likes of Mr Medic, three-time scorer Our Merlin and Kohuma.
Walk In The Mill did his bit for the Dorset stable when landing a 3m handicap chase at Ascot in November, and a subsequent third to Gold Present in a much stronger race on a return visit just before Christmas suggests he is still improving.
Walford said: “Conditions will suit him, and he’s in good form. He’s done well since we’ve stepped him up in trip.”
The Philip Hobbs stable has begun 2018 in far better form than it was for much of the back-end of 2017, and Rock The Kasbah comes into the Peter Marsh with good credentials.
A leading fancy for the Welsh Grand National, he missed the rescheduled Chepstow marathon, which could prove a blessing as this shorter trip – don’t forget he finished second over 2m5f to the smart Politologue at Ascot last season – is likely to suit him far better.
Richard Johnson rides the gelding, who boasts winning Haydock form on soft ground during his hurdling days.
He told Betway: "We’re going into the slight unknown with the conditions he’ll face on Saturday, but he is still improving and he schooled brilliantly in the week.
"If he copes with the heavy ground, I’d be very keen on his chances."
Forest Des Aigles has really got his act together since being stepped up in trip by Lucinda Russell last autumn, winning handicaps at Hexham, Carlisle and Bangor in the style of a rapidly progressive performer.
As a result, his official mark has climbed from 112 to 133, but he leaves the impression a slog in the mud round Haydock will suit him and, as a lightly-raced seven-year-old, it’s fair to assume there is plenty more to come.
Russell’s partner Peter Scudamore said: “He’s in great form, but needs to step up a bit in this better company – it’s the best race he’s ever been in.
“He’ll like the ground, though, and we’re hopeful of a big run.”
What they say
Harry Derham, assistant to Paul Nicholls, trainer of Ptit Zig
He has to carry plenty of weight, but the ground will suit him as will the trip. He’s high enough in the handicap.
Neil Mulholland, trainer of Carole’s Destrier
I was pleased with his run at Newbury. That was a big ask on his first start after having so much time off. He has come on for it, and hopefully he’ll run well.
James Moffatt, trainer of Highland Lodge
I’m very happy with him. He came out of the Becher Chase well. It’s going to be a gruelling race at Haydock, but he can handle pretty desperate ground. I’m looking forward to it.
Nigel Twiston-Davies, trainer of Tintern Theatre
He’s a nice horse. Three miles should suit him round there, and it was pretty soft ground when he won at Kempton over Christmas. He should run well.
Kim Bailey, trainer of Knockanrawley
He’s badly handicapped, but has a low weight. He ran respectably at Newbury last time, and should like the ground.