The Stan Conway Memorial Graduation Chase is the feature contest at Newbury today and the field is filled with plenty of talented sorts.
Paul Nicholls will be hoping that JUST A PAR can give him another winner and extend his lead at the top of the trainers' championship. The nine-year-old is plenty experienced and he will look to put that to good use at the Berkshire track. Just A Par contested in some high-class novice chases a few years ago, including the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival where he finished a respectable seventh.
The son of Island House has become renowned for his ability to outstay his rivals and was given a cracker of a ride by Sean Bowen to capture in the Bet365 Gold Cup on the final day of the jumps season at Sandown last year. After being in the wrath of the handicapper for the most part of last term, Just A Par again came alive at Sandown as he looked to defend his crown. The gelding still produced a sterling effort but finished a neck second to The Young Master that day. Just A Par makes his seasonal reappearance but he has four positives next to his name on BTO+ ratings. One of those is Bowen's record around today's distance, which is 38% better than expected.
The son of Dr Massini has been on a significant, upward curve for the last 12 months and still has the scope to improve. Three Faces West got the better of Just A Par in a handicap at Exeter last term but the former was receiving over a stone in weights. Phillip Hobbs' charge has had two starts this campaign already, the first of which came at Carlisle in October but Richard Johnson pulled up his mount. Something clearly wasn't right with Three Faces West that day and he bounced back at Haydock on his next start. Johnson rode the gelding with the utmost amount of confidence and victory never looked in doubt as the pair hacked up to register a 13 length victory. Three Faces West is the form horse coming into the race, but this is another step up for him. However, Johnson will retain the ride and the champion jockey has a 50% better than expected record on the chase course at Newbury.
CAMPING GROUND has been slightly frustrating. He arrived from France with a stellar reputation and has shown glimpses of his talent for Robert Walford. The gelding looked a top-class chaser in the making when winning at Warwick on his first start in Britain carrying top weight, and was regarded highly enough to run in the Peterborough Chase last season where he unseated. The son of Goldneyev was then highly tried over hurdles last term and was an impressive winner of the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year's Day where he relished soft conditions and cruised to an 11 length win. Camping Ground then saw the back of Thistlecrack in the Cleeve Hurdle and then Annie Power on two occasions respectively and connections have sent the eight-year-old back chasing. Walford's charge met just Josses Hill at Kempton on his seasonal reappearance last month. Camping Ground was unable to lay a glove on his sole rival, but the form has worked out well, given that Josses Hill romped to victory in the Peterborough subsequently. If Camping Ground puts it all together at Newbury, he could be in the shake-up for home but he may need the ground softer.
Ben Pauling has been talking up the chances of DRUMACOO. He was a useful hurdler in Ireland having beat Roi De Frances in a novice event before joining Pauling. Dumacoo was purchased to be a chaser and he couldn't have been more impressive on his debut over fences. The son of Oscar faced both Fletchers Flyer and Value At Risk at Huntingdon just under a year ago and put them both to the sword. The seven-year-old was spring-heeled at his obstacles and took up the running four fences from home and was eased to victory by Nico de Boinville. Drumacoo was well fancied to clinch the Reynoldstown Novices' Chase at Ascot on his next start. He was a beaten favourite that day but, given he hasn't seen a racecourse since, due to injury, something wasn't right with him. That effort can be forgiven but Drumacoo is meeting race-fit rivals at Newbury, which makes his task even more difficult. He has the best BTO+ speed rating and Pauling has been in a rich vein of form and brags a 61% better than expected record in the last two weeks.