The feature race on a cracking mixed card at Haydock on Saturday is the Grade 3 Swinton Handicap Hurdle (15:10).
Leoncavallo shaped nicely last time out, so off a handy mark looks cracking value at 14/1 with BetVictor to land the spoils in the 2m contest.
This seven-year-old is one of two runners saddled by Dr Richard Newland and has won six of his 17 starts over hurdles.
He ran a screamer in last year’s Galway Hurdle when leading at the last, before keeping on gamelly when headed to finish a 3 1/2 lengths third of 20 to Sharjah off a mark of 144.
Leoncavallo has had just two outings this season, shaping as if badly needing the first of those in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival when racing far too freely and making a mistake two from home before weakening to finish a decent 13 1/2 lengths 14th of 24 to Ch’tibello.
He then showed the benefit of that outing when a fine 9 1/2 lengths fifth of 14 to Verdana Blue in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr, where he raced at the head of affairs before being unable to find any extra between the final two flights.
Leoncavallo should now be fully tuned to do himself justice and, having been dropped a pound, is able to race off 143.
That entitles him to be very competitive, especially on his Galway Hurdle run, and he has also been rated higher in the past.
Jockey Charlie Hammond also now partners Leoncavallo for the first time and takes off a handy 3lb with his claim.
Taking it into account, the son of Cape Cross looks weighted to run a huge race on ground which is ideal.
Mister Fisher a major player
Mister Fisher, an 8/1 shot with William Hill, has course and distance winning form to his name and looks weighted to go well now dropped in class on handicap debut.
This Nicky Henderson trained five-year-old always been held in high regard and has won two of his four starts over the obstacles.
In the first of those at Kempton, he jumped and travelled well throughout before running on strongly after the last to readily beat Rouge Vif by 2 3/4 lengths.
The runner-up has won twice since, including at Grade 2 level at Kelso, and finished third in a Grade 1 at the Aintree Grand National Festival to be rated 143 – so that gives the form a rock solid look.
Mister Fisher then followed-up in the Grade 2 Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle here when keeping on strongly to beat Bright Forecast by 2 1/2 lengths.
Although only eighth of 16 to Klassical Dream in the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last time out at the Cheltenham Festival off an official rating of 145, he was far from disgraced on soft ground which didn’t suit.
The return to a sounder surface is sure to see Mister Fisher, who is also a strong travelling sort with a smart turn of foot, in a far better light.
An opening handicap mark of 145 looks exploitable, judged on his aforementioned victory over Rouge Vif.
John Constable too well-treated to ignore
Welsh handler Evans Williams has a terrific recent record in the race having won four of the last six renewals, including the last two runnings.
His sole representative this year is John Constable, who landed the spoils in 2017 and has become dangerously well-treated.
The eight-year-old made a total mockery of his handicap mark of 134 that day when travelling ominously well throughout, before forging effortlessly clear after the second last to impressively slam Optimus prime by 14 lengths.
John Constable got put up to 150 for that ultra-dominant display, but it was not enough to stop him following-up in fine style when beating Red Tornado by 2 1/2 lengths in a Listed handicap at Market Rasen.
He went on to finish runner-up to dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown in February 2018 off an official rating of 156, but it’s fair to say that since then things haven’t gone to plan.
John Constable has really struggled and only made the frame once in 11 subsequent starts, when a 40-length third of four in a novice chase. However, his handicap rating has plummeted as a result.
The son of Montjeu is now able to race off a career low hurdles mark of just 132. It gives him major claims from a handicapping perspective, if bouncing back to anything like his best and this is his first start following wind surgery.
That makes John Constable a fascinating contender in this if the operation has had the desired effect. So, at 10/1 with Betfair, he looks an each-way player in a wide-open and typically fierce renewal in which bookmakers are paying extra places.
Champagne City holds solid each-way claims
The Tom George trained Champagne City is a tough and consistent six-year-old who has been knocking on the door in hot handicaps all season, so looks another with each-way claims and can be backed at 16/1 with William Hill.
This son of Tobougg has a strike rate of almost 30 per cent over hurdles having won four times and been placed five times from 13 starts. He comes into this having posted flour really solid efforts in hot handicaps.
In the first of those at Cheltenham, the son of Tobougg only lost second place close home when finishing an 11 1/4 lengths third of nine to subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner Al Dancer off a mark of 134.
Champagne City then finished a fine fourth of 12 to Benny’s Bridge at the same venue, before running a cracker at Newbury when a three-quarters of a length second of 11 to the lightly-raced and unexposed Crooks Peak.
He raced at the head of affairs throughout in the latter and made a mistake at the last before rallying strongly to go down fighting. But for the final flight blunder, Champagne City may well have prevailed.
As he’s since run another cracker to be beaten just a nose by Winston C at Kelso when looking all over the winner jumping the last before getting chinned in the final stride, he could be worth another chance.
Although he has been put up 3lb for that game effort to a career-high rating of 139, Champagne City doesn’t know how to run a bad race and looks sure to give it his best shot on ground which holds no fears.
OpenOdds’ Swinton Handicap Hurdle shortlist
Mister Fisher ✮✮✮✮✰
John Constable ✮✮✮✰✰