Gloucestershire racehorse trainer David Bridgwater's hopes of winning Racing Plus Chase with Wyck Hill receive boost
WHILE he counts down the days to yet another big-race assault for his upwardly-mobile Cotswold stable, David Bridgwater can already claim one significant victory with a regular training companion of his best horse The Giant Bolster.
In a rare public statement, the British Horseracing Authority's head of handicapping Phil Smith has admitted that Bridgwater's Racing Plus Chase favourite Wyck Hill has proved difficult for him to assess, suggesting the gelding could still be well handicapped for the biggest test of his career so far.
Smith raised Wyck Hill's rating after the fast-improving chaser – reported in "great nick" by Bridgwater – gained his best win to date in brave and determined style under Tom Scudamore at Ascot in December.
The subsequent victories of runner-up Katenko at Sandown and Cheltenham have meant Wyck Hill's handicap mark has been put up again – even though he has not raced since Ascot – but Smith was close to putting him up by even more.
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Smith said: "Wyck Hill won at Ascot a few months ago, which looked a nothing race at the time, and I only put him up 4lb as there were three finishers, but the second horse Katenko has gone onwards and upwards since.
"I have already put up Wyck Hill twice for standing in his box and I did wonder long and hard whether I should put him up for a third time, but I have only done that once before and there would have to be absolutely exceptional circumstances. His form looks fantastic."
Patiently handled by Bridgwater, Wyck Hill has won four of his six races over fences and, as well as the Racing Plus Chase, has entries in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup and the John Smith's Grand National.
The tough and honest nine-year-old has headed the betting for the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton next Saturday since the entries were announced a fortnight ago, even though he needs horses above him in the handicap to be pulled out for him to be guaranteed a run.
The three-mile race has been won by some of the best-known chasers in Britain since its inaugural running in 1988, when victory went to subsequent Grand National hero Rhyme 'n' Reason.
Kim Bailey's popular chaser Docklands Express won the race twice, in 1991 and 1992, while other winners include Desert Orchid (1990), Rough Quest (1996) and Gloria Victis (2000).
Nigel Twiston-Davies, who won it three years ago with Razor Royale, has shortlisted Changing Times, Same Difference and Tour Des Champs, who have all won this season.
Tom George's long-time stable star Nacarat won the race in 2009 and last year and the grey could attempt to become the first three-time winner next Saturday.
The Slad trainer has also given an entry to Mail De Bivre, now officially the best horse at his yard after he finished fifth in the Betfair Denman Chase at Newbury last Saturday.
Bailey could run his Grand National contender The Rainbow Hunter, while Fergal O'Brien is considering the race for Alvarado.
Jonjo O'Neill's hopes of winning the Racing Plus Chase for the first time rest with Galaxy Rock and Mister Hyde.
O'Neill said: "Mister Hyde jumps well but was disappointing at Sandown the other day.
"He looked very good at Kempton but I don't think that was a strong race."